Just because books are lauded today, doesn't mean they weren't, in their own time, received with anger, fear, and disdain. Some of the most valuable works of literature we have got their start amidst disgrace and outrage, though in the long run at least, they didn't seem to suffer too much for it.
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
The New York Times did not like Lolita. The full quote goes a little something like this: “There are two equally serious reasons why it isn't worth any adult reader's attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.” Way harsh, Times.
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
The Brontës were probably quite used to ruffling feathers, and the reaction Wuthering Heights got says a lot about how revolutionary they were. This isn't your average, delicate story for ladies, and it left the Graham's Lady's Magazine wondering “how a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters.”
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Steinbeck's tragic depiction of dustbowl living rocked the world when it came out, and The Grapes of Wrath has been steadily banned ever since. Funnily enough, though it was labeled communist propaganda stateside, the book was also banned in the USSR by Stalin, who thought it dangerous to show that even the poorest American could own a car.
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Read the rest
Halimah Marcus and Benjamin Samuel's "Handy Chart Automatically Generates a Pitch for Your New Novel"
The Electric Literature auto-publicist pitch generator does all that work for you—and it’s easy to use! If you’re Beyoncé, for instance: first of all, welcome, we’re glad you read the site. Second of all, you would look up “b” in column A, “e” in column B, “y” in column C, “o” in column D, and so forth, and then plug them into the sentence below. The result: “A keenly observed war epic about an overbearing mistress’s quest to grapple with her sexless marriage.”
It instructed me to write "a riveting autobiographical novel about a wealthy orphan's dream to confront their traumatic childhood." Read the rest
At the end of S. E. Hinton's classic 1967 novel The Outsiders, both Johnny and Dally die tragically. But what do their deaths mean? Is it a narrative device that pushes on the novel's themes of class conflict, the meaning of family, and the transition to adulthood? Nope, tweets S.E. Hinton in response to a reader's query. The reason for their deaths is much simpler than all that:
(A/V Club) Read the rest
I can't quite believe this is real: a novel by former movie star and Putin pal Steven Seagal, with a foreword by racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, titled "The Way of the Shadow Wolves", with a cover that looks like a photoshopped parody of itself.
This is the story of an Arizona Tribal police officer who stumbles onto one of the of the biggest cases in the history of the Southwest. He is a member of an elite group within the Native American communities known as The Shadow Wolves. What comes with his discovery is the uncovering of massive corruption in places where he once had placed his total trust.
It's $0 on Amazon Prime and 236 pages long. It's 11 p.m. and I have a freakish suspicion that if I start, I won't stop. So I won't.
Here's the first paragraph, which is also, of course, the first page:
Behold the reviews:
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Of all the outlandish technologies I propose in The Punch Escrow, the one nobody seems to ever take umbrage with is “printing.” For those who haven’t read my book, a base assumption I make about 22nd century Earth is that we will be able to 3D print pretty much anything: the food we eat, the silverware we eat it with, heck, maybe even some people to join us for dinner.
Tal M. Klein's The Punch Escrow is available from Amazon.
How? E=mc2. Really, it all comes down to E=mc2; Einstein’s energy-matter equivalence principle. This equation tells us that mass is just another form of energy. That means we should be able to take some mass and directly convert it into pure energy, a thesis supported by real evidence. For example, it’s how we explain the energy that keeps atomic nuclei together. If we were to weigh the nucleus of any atom, we’d find it weighed slightly less than the sum of its parts. Where’d the extra heft go? It was converted into energy -- the “glue” holding everything together (in other words, dude, energy is the carpet of our universe). Since E=mc2 is a balanced formula, we should be able to -- at least in theory --convert energy to mass.
In quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle allows energy to briefly decay into particles and antiparticles which then transmogrify back to pure energy. At small enough scales, the energy of these fluctuations would be large enough to cause significant departures from the smooth spacetime seen at macroscopic scales, giving spacetime a "foamy" character. Read the rest
The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End by Ken Follet's are two lenghthy novels about a fictional medieval English town called Kingsbridge. When I read them years ago I became immersed in a world of conflict, betrayal, and scheming. In a way, the novels are like Game of Thrones (at least the TV series; I have not read the books) without magic. I did expect Follet to write a third book about Kingsbridge, but he did. and it's coming on September 12. It's called A Column of Fire. They sent me an advance copy, so as soon as I finish the book I'm currently reading (Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters)
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This third book in the bestselling Kingsbridge series introduces readers to a world of spies and secret agents in the sixteenth century, the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Set during one of the most turbulent and revolutionary times in history, this novel is one of Follett’s most exciting and ambitious works yet, appealing to both long-time fans of the Kingsbridge series as well as readers new to Follett.
A Column of Fire begins in 1558 where the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, high principles clash bloodily with friendship, loyalty, and love. It’s the perfect epic, escapist read for the fall, after Game of Thrones leaves airwaves, transporting the reader to another century with its own heroes and villains.
I enjoyed Rob Reid's 2013 science fiction humor novel, Year Zero, about a pan-galactic conspiracy by aliens who would rather destroy Earth than pay music royalties. Next month, Rob has a new novel coming out called After On, and I'm excited to read it. Here's what my friend Hugh Howey (author of the Wool series) has to say about After On: "Rob Reid doesn’t write science fiction; he writes future history. After On is the best account I’ve read of how superintelligence will arrive and what it will mean for all of us. Hilarious, frightening, believable, and marvelously constructed — After On has it all.”
If you want a sneak preview, you can read it on Medium, which is publishing twelve episodic excerpts from After On, starting today. Medium will also publish Rob's After On podcast that explores themes from the novel and interviews folks like Sam Harris, Steve Jurvetson, and Adam Gazzaley -- "on the future of tech, AI, and consciousness."
Here's what Rob wrote in a Medium post about his novel:
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Set in present-day San Francisco, After On is the tale of an imaginary social media startup. A rather diabolical one, which attains consciousness. Its personality then emerges from its roots as a social network. So rather than going all Terminator and killing everyone, it basically becomes a hyper-empowered, superintelligent, 14-year-old brat. Yes, it has playful aspects. But After On is also a serious rumination on super AI risk — as well as on the promises and perils of synthetic biology.
Trish Vickers of Dorset, England, decided to write a novel. Though blind, she preferred to work the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, with her son dropping in weekly to type up the results. On one visit, though, she learned to her horror that her pen had ran out of ink fully 26 pages ago. But all was not lost!
Not knowing what else to do, she and Simon called the police. To the Vickers’s surprise, officers at Dorset HQ volunteered to work during their breaks and free time, hoping to use their forensic tools to help. And, five months later, the police reported back with success: they recovered the never-written words. Vickers told a local newspaper that the pen she used to write the pages — even though there was no ink left in it — left behind a series of indentations: “I think they used a combination of various lights at different angles to see if they could get the impression made by my pen.”
Vickers finished the book, Grannifer's Legacy, and died the day it was published. [via MeFi] Read the rest
"Your first doomsday machine is a malevolent, inscrutable wristwatch.”
The Please Don't Tell My Parents series, by Richard Roberts, is a wonderful young adult series of novels about Penelope Akk and her two friends Claire and Ray. They are normal middle school kids just hoping their superpowers will kick in soon. Read the rest
I have a Kindle Paperwhite and use it almost every day. About a year ago I was on a plane and when I took my seat belt off the buckle hit the screen damaged it. It still works but it has a distracting white spot where the buckle landed. I've been looking for a reason to buy the superior Kindle Voyage, but at $(removed), I couldn't justify it to myself. But Amazon started selling refurbished Voyages for $(removed), which is low enough for me to hit Amazon's patented 1-Click Buy Now button. Hopefully I'll get it in time to finish reading A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin. If you like Patricia Highsmith, you will like this novel about a charming young psychopath. Levin also wrote Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, two of my favorite movies. Read the rest
Currently a columnist for Deadspin, GQ, and other outlets, Drew Magary crafted his voice writing blisteringly satires of NFL players, coaches, and fans like Rex Ryan, Michael Vick, Rex Grossman, and “Tommy from Quinzee” at the NFL-related humor blog KissingSuzyKolber. He gained his greatest renown in a 2013 profile of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson for GQ that brightly illuminated Robertson’s homophobia and lead to Robertson’s brief suspension from the show.
But to get a grasp of this captivating writer’s career to date and put his new novel, The Hike, in its proper context, it helps to go back to the start of his online career. Magary began to draw attention in the blogosphere as “Big Daddy Drew” on a blog called “Father Knows Shit” and as an early, popular commenter on Deadspin, and the blogging medium and FKS’ uproarious view of fatherhood remains a touchstone for his work. As he recently told me, “You know me, I never shut … up about dad crap. I try to use any available material I have in hand because it helps make the characters feel grounded and because I always try to get deep inside myself and try to get that on the page.”
Magary’s first novel, The Postmortal (2011), is a fascinating update to the epistolary form as he used a series of blog entries to craft his novel’s premise of a world without aging and the myriad complications to society that result. It was a deft move that combined the strengths of his non-fiction and online satire into the novel’s form and content. Read the rest
Great opening lines from literature, in one large image.
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Described as a "mix between Game of Thrones and House of Cards," a novella written by late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has finally been translated to English. Written in the last days of his rule, the plot reportedly "revolves around a Zionist-Christian conspiracy against Arabs," a presumably unsurprising topic to fans. Read the rest
The origin story of Children of Earth and Sky, my current novel, begins with my Croatian editor being the first person ever to tell me about the Uskoks of Senj. He did that as we approached where their stronghold had once been on the Dalmatian coast (the Uskoks are long gone now, a small tourist town remains). I told that road trip story here and another version of the origin story here. By the time I came, many years later, to write a book taking off from that anecdote, the tale did not involve Uskoks, or the Dalmatian Coast. Nor was it formally about the aftermath of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, or the Holy Roman Empire, the Republics of Venice or Dubrovnik. And Senj had become Senjan. Read the rest
See sample pages from this book at Wink.
by Grady Hendrix
2014, 240 pages, 7.4 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches (softcover)
Buy a copy on Amazon
Imagine a store much like Ikea, but not quite up to Ikea’s standards. In the book Horrorstör, Orsk is a shabby copy of the Scandinavian warehouse we all know, and maybe even love, right down to the incomprehensible product names (Frȧnjk, for example) and a Bright and Shining Path that guides shoppers through the showroom floor maze. But something about Orsk is different. And very, very wrong.
Amy works at the Orsk in Cleveland, Ohio. Caught in a spiral of student debt and unable to support herself, she moves into her mom’s trailer and wonders if she’ll ever dig herself out of retail. That's when things change. Resigned to working at Orsk for the rest of their lives, Amy and her co-workers arrive every morning to find broken wardrobes, shattered glassware and vandalized sofas. Convinced someone is hiding out in the store and up to no good, they agree to spend the night in the store with their manager to unravel the mystery. Little do they know that tonight is their final shift.
Horrorstör is a clever twist on a traditional haunted house story that takes place in a modern consumerist setting. The symbolism and criticism of consumer culture and the nature of work are there if you look for them, but it’s light, and pretty funny, and doesn’t get in the way of the story. Read the rest
See sample pages from this book at Wink.
1766. A ship named the Kraken. A little girl tied to the mast, her face darkened by the shadow of a fearsome sea monster. It’s approaching, closer, closer, its teeth just inches from her face. But none of this is real.
Pan back to reveal an audience – and that’s when we realize that we, like them, are being treated to a performance. All this comes in the first few pages of Brian Selznick’s The Marvels and it sets the tone for everything after. Stories within stories, books inside plays, real life lived out on a theatre stage.
The Marvels is a novel of two halves. Part one consists of a 400-page collection of immersive black-and-white pencil drawings that tell the story of the Marvel family. From modest roots to fame and fortune, from lucky escapes to fiery ends. Part two is a short novel in itself, picking up in 1990 with young runaway Joseph Jervis absconding from boarding school in order to search out his enigmatic uncle, Mr A. Nightingale, and then discovering the history of the Marvel family for himself.
The illustrations of part one are a real pleasure and very manageable in one sitting. With every image realized on a two-page spread, there are layers and intimate details to get lost in. A range of pencil techniques capture the story’s varied landscapes, which switch from brooding oceans to tropical forests to cobblestoned alleyways. Selznick obviously doesn’t believe in white space. Read the rest
In 2013, a hacktivist group calling itself Konstant kOS raided one of the government’s most secure computer networks. Their target was a list of more than a million American citizens monitored as potential terrorist threats. The list was classified because it was feared that making it public could result in widespread violence.
Konstant kOS, on other hand, believed information needed to be free. They thought citizens should know about potential terrorists amongst them. Also, they thought stealing and publishing the list would be fun.
Marcus Sakey's Written in Fire is available from Amazon.
So they did. As a result, thousands of innocents were assaulted or even murdered.
This didn’t happen, of course; it’s a small detail in my novel Written in Fire, the final book in the Brilliance Trilogy. The premise of the series is that since 1980, 1% of people have been born with extraordinary gifts, essentially a form of savantism that lets them see patterns the rest of us can’t. Some spot rhythms in the stock market and amass vast fortunes; others read body language so minutely they can intuit your thoughts and fears. The stolen data was a nearly complete list of these “brilliants.”
While Konstant kOS is my invention, they’re obviously based on hacker collectives like Anonymous, which fascinate me. Shadowy organizations of rogue anarchists waging private wars resulting in everything from surreal silliness to rough justice to reprehensible and mistargeted damage? Tell me more.
At this point, I should say that while I’m tech-savvy, by the standards of this fine publication, I’m at best a journeyman. Read the rest