Tinker, Taylor, Warlock, Spy

Blending consensus historical events and personages with imaginary occult forces is a strong recipe for counterfactual storytelling goodness that combines the best of two worlds: resonant history with wild-eyed fantasy. The formula has worked for Mike Mignola's Hellboy franchise, as well as Charles Stross's Laundry series. Ian Tregellis's Milkweed Triptych is the latest such hybrid, zestily offering a suspenseful take on history rerouted by the uncanny.


What's It Like for a Critic to Write a Novel? A Guest Post by Caleb Crain

There’s lots to like in Caleb Crain’s marvelous debut novel, Necessary Errors. This is a coming-of-age story of exiles and expats finding freedom in post-Velvet Revolution Prague.  In elegant prose and with great tenderness, Crain captures all the messiness of twenty-something lives, where exuberance and idealism collide with expectations and indiscretions.


But Crain’s talent isn’t limited to writing novels; for years now, his journalism and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Nation, The New York Times, the London Review of Books, The Paris Review Daily, and n+1.


Which is why I had to ask: What’s it like to be a critic-turned-novelist?


A Week of Toothsome Reading

Few predators rival the shark in fascination.  No matter how often we see them, or how much we read about them, humans are always eager to learn more, exhibiting a mixture of reverence, awe and fear. 


All of which is to say, who can resist the notion of "Shark Week"?  Here's a week's worth --  seven vital volumes  -- of squaline lore, ranging from the scientific to the sensationally fantastic, to satisfy that obsession with what just might be out there in the waves.


BNR Recommends: 10 Great International Noirs

For many of us, summer reading means the chance to experience exotic locales beyond those frequent-flier miles can reach-- or to indulge in a safely imaginary excursion to the shadowy sides of human experience.  Why not combine the two?  Crime noir from around the world is perfectly suited for the season's sweltering days and nights. Here are ten tales of international intrigue have captured our attention:  whether they accompany you to the beach, on a flight, or even on a late-night stakeout, these cold-blooded tales are just the thing for the journey through a long, hot August.



The first edition of Samuel Delany's novella Phallos was published by a small press in 2004. Nowadays, it's a sought-after rarity among Delany fanatics. Although I own all of Delany's other books, I have never lucked into a copy myself. But now, thanks to the editorial acumen and good taste of Wesleyan University Press (buttressed by several accessibly scholarly essays attached), an affordable new edition is available. Moreover, the text is enhanced and expanded by one-third. Delany fans, rejoice!


Sticks and Stones...

Over the course of four previous novels, Max Barry has proven himself a gonzo satirist and a black-comedy inclined futurist of no mean abilities.  Deadly funny, with barbs of cultural commentary hidden within his absurdity.  As with all such writers—Robert Sheckley, William Tenn, Kurt Vonnegut, Will Self, Christopher Moore and George Saunders, for instance—this exaggerative, extrapolative talent means he also has his sensitive fingertips securely fastened to the pulse of the present, whose more uncanny dimensions he also often explores.  For it is only the keen analysis and tracking of "what is" that provides the solid foundation from which "what might be" (however outrageous) can believably arise.


Old World Magic in Old New York

Very few debut novels exhibit the charm, assurance, emotional depth and bravura fabulation which the lucky reader will discover in Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni. Like some agreeable conflation of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Mark Helprin and the anonymous compiler of One Thousand and One Nights, Wecker delivers an ambitious yet gracefully humble novel featuring the best of classic European and Middle Eastern fancies, reimagined and reembedded in a vivid New World milieu, at once numinously odd and groundedly naturalistic.  The result is utterly unique and enchanting.  Perhaps the famous debut of Susannah Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, might be the last occasion for such rejoicing at a new voice in the genre and beyond.



Maris Kreizman on NOOK Snaps

A new oral history of a groundbreaking comedy troupe, a porn magazine editor's memoir, short fiction from an award-winning novelist, and more: editor Maris Kreizman joins us to talk about NOOK Snaps.


Robot Visions

Angry robots! Aren't they all? Well, not the line of fine science fiction and fantasy books that comes to readers under the rubric Angry Robot. In fact, their offerings always seem packaged with an appealing extra measure of excitement, zest, and thrills sometimes lacking with more sedate and long-established publishers.



Deciding Which Stories to Leave Out: Ethan Rutherford and Matt Burgess in Conversation

Ethan Rutherford and Matt Burgess (Dogfight: A Love Story) on the writing of Rutherford's surreal and fiercely funny story collection The Peripatetic Coffin


The Annals of Unsolved Crime: The Submerged Spy

I became interested in spies after I met James Jesus Angleton, the legendary head of CIA counterintelligence in 1976.  We met in Kensington Nursey outside of Washington DC. Orchids were, as I was to learn,  Angleton’s living metaphor for deception. I also learned from Angleton that intelligence services  have been known to engage in what he termed  “surreptitiously-assisted deaths.” 


Edward Jay Epstein on The Annals of Unsolved Crime.


Who Was Dracula?

The lives of most authors -- even, or perhaps especially, the great ones -- are necessarily a catalogue of tedious inwardness and cloistered composition. Globe-trotting Hemingways and brawling Christopher Marlowes are the exception, not the rule. In many respects, a cursory overlook of the life of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, fits this milk-mild template, albeit in a slightly divergent and commercial fashion.



Celebrating World Book Night

On Tuesday, April 23, I'll be handing out twenty copies of Jesmyn Ward's National Book Award–winning novel, Salvage the Bones, as part of World Book Night. What began in Spain circa 1923 as a festival to celebrate the anniversary of Cervantes' death was adopted by UNESCO in 1995 as World Book Day. The tenuous association between the date and world literature was strengthened by the fact that April 23 is also the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth and death. (Never mind the discrepancies between the Gregorian and Julian calendars, according to which the death dates of Cervantes and Shakespeare were respectively recorded.)



Hand-Drying in America

The front and back covers and the endpapers and the indicia and title pages of Ben Katchor's sumptuous new collection of strips from Metropolis magazine (appearing originally from 1998 to 2012) constitute a "bonus" story of sorts, seemingly coextant only with this project. The topic of the new piece? How wasteful, environmentally unsound and generally unworthy is the production of books in general and large, glossy art books in particular. The nearly criminal charges are leveled through the intermediary of one of Katchor's great obsessive amateur experts, Josef Fuss, who inveighs against many offenders, including "a deluxe full-color edition of an esoteric literary comic strip."  In other words, against the very book the reader now holds.



The Rooster Has Crowed!

The Orphan Master’s Son takes the title in the 2013 Tournament of Books.


The Story Came to Me Whole, As All Stories Do: A Conversation with Taiye Selasi

"The story came to me 'whole,' as all stories do. I'd been waiting, thirty years I think, to write a novel—that is, to receive a story worthy of the form. It was the autumn of 2009, and I'd gone to a yoga retreat with one of my best friends in Sweden. Something about the experience—waking up every day at 5 AM to do karma yoga, pulling shrieking beets and carrots from the frozen earth, sitting in meditation meditating on hypothermia—must have jolted the thing out of me. I was standing in the shower when I saw all the Sais, all six of them, just like that. My friend and I abandoned the retreat, took the train to Copenhagen, and settled into the Admiral Hotel. It was there that I wrote the first ten pages of the novel, or perhaps more accurately: wrote them down." -- Taiye Selasi on the origin of Ghana Must Go.


The Freddie Stories

Blessed with legions of ardent fans, Lynda Barry is nonetheless critically under- appreciated. Seach on her byline accompanied by the word "review," and you come up practically empty. Many people bump into her only in the context of her long friendship with Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. And yet for nearly thirty-five years she's been producing great, funny, unique comic strips -- not graphic novels per se -- many of them centered on a quirky adolescent girl named Marlys Mullen and her family.


Announcing the Morning News' 2013 Tournament of Books, Presented by NOOK

The Morning News’ ninth annual Tournament of Books is under way!  Each weekday throughout the month, two of 2012’s finest works of fiction go head-to-head, with the winner advancing to the next round.


2012 National Book Critics Circle Award Winners Announced

The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) announced their 2012 award winners Thursday night at a ceremony at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium in Manhattan.  These awards – established in 1972 by a group of literary critics meeting at the Algonquin Hotel – remain unique in that they are nominated and awarded solely by critics and reviewers.


Drugstore Inspiration: A Guest Post by Dennis Mahoney

In Dennis Mahoney's debut, Fellow Mortals, a carelessly discarded match ignites a raging fire that destroys a neighborhood and changes the victims' lives in very different ways. In precise, clean prose, this soulful and compassionate debut limns the boundary between atonement and forgiveness, and is a terrific book group pick. 

Dennis not only explains how he found the story that became Fellow Mortals, but also riffs on the unreliable nature of inspiration, and why writers need a toolbox and a muse, among other things, in a guest post for the Discover Blog.



Some acts of worldbuilding in fiction instantiate a milieu that is so culturally odd and exotic, so displaced from the audience's consensus reality in terms of quotidian rituals and observances, clothing and habitations, taboos and emotions, that the subcreation becomes fantastical even if nothing overtly supernatural or paranormal takes place. Such creations usually free up the writer to focus on character, imagining what types of people such a world would produce, since the creator is not overly busy casting spells or buffing up the scales on the dragons. The Ur-example of this kind of book is Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy.



A Date with a Book: Valentine's Day Reading

Some of us will spend Valentine’s Day staring into the eyes of a lover, but others will find February 14 provides a perfect opportunity to get intimate with a book. We asked seven writers for their "Date with a Book" selections, and received six wildly various -- yet equally loveable --  suggestions in turn.


Get Out of the Way of the Material: Stuart Nadler and Emma Straub in Conversation

Stuart Nadler’s Wise Men and Emma Straub’s Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures are both  stellar reads, thought-provoking and entertaining in equal measure, easy to recommend.  Good stories, well told and solid selections for the Discover Great New Writers program. Both Emma and Stuart have gone from story collections with contemporary settings to ambitious, compulsively readable historical novels about class and identity. So why make the switch from present to past, short to long? They answer that question, discuss the importance of story as well as the perils of the internet -- and more -- in conversation on the Discover blog.


Does Seeing Your Roommate Weep Help Dry Your Own Tears? A Conversation with Wiley Cash 2

Spend more than a couple of minutes talking with the talented, down-to-earth, and very funny Wiley Cash, author of  the critically-acclaimed 2012 Discover Great New Writers selection, A Land More Kind Than Home, and, well, it’s no surprise that his storytelling is mature and thoughtful. So here's Wiley on learning how to tell stories and handle literary rejections,  what the characters he creates teach him about normal people, and answering an age-old question: Does seeing your roommate weep help dry your own tears?  Interview by Michael Jauchen for the Discover Blog.


2013 Newbery and Caldecott Medal Winners Announced

Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan has been awarded the John Newbery Medal for "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." 


Where I Saw Tragedy, I Also Saw the Absurd: David Abrams and Alex Gilvarry in Conversation

Funny is powerful stuff in literature, but easy to botch. So funny done well – funny with a soul, the potent, arm-whack-you-have-to-hear-this, new-image-tattooed-on-the-back-of-the-brain kind of funny, provocative funny -- always gets the attention of the Discover selection committee readers. David Abrams (Fobbit) and Alex Gilvarry (From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant) have created darkly comic novels, easily read as companion pieces, that compelled our readers to think long and hard about war and death, race and human rights. David and Alex discuss what they learned at the movies, the literature of war, and satire’s reverberations, among other things, on the Discover blog.


The Apocalypse Ocean

What's a talented writer to do when he's got new stories to set in a thoughtfully imagined world, fans are clamoring for an extension of a beloved series -- and the traditional publishing route to continuing the cycle is closed?  Just a couple of decades or so ago, the answer to that question would have been simple: slink off into the sunset and develop a serious drinking habit. But nowadays the Internet and the spread of ebooks offers many a route to continued storytelling.


What We Do in Their Wake: A Guest Post by Jonathan Katz

Donations -- of cash, emergency rations, manpower and medical supplies -- surged into Haiti in the wake  of the devastating earthquake in January 2010. But almost 3 years later, those donations have yet to improve the lives of many of the intended recipients. Former AP Correspondent Jonathan M. Katz was the only full-time American reporter on the ground wen the quake hit, and he explains how and why the best laid plans went awry in Spring '13 Discover pick, The Big Truck That Went By - and in this guest post on the Discover blog.



A Dickens of a Christmas

Dickens did not quite "invent" Christmas, as it is sometimes claimed, but, ever since A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, Scrooge's Yuletide nightmares and joyful Christmas morning have become as much a part of the popular idea of the season as Christmas trees and endless, maddening renditions of "Jingle Bells." A little searching yields about 1,700 different editions of A Christmas Carol for sale, and theatrical performances are an annual tradition.



Best of 2012: Booksellers Select

Demanding and discerning readers on your gift list?  Fear not!  Not only have the BN Review editors selected their favorite Fiction and Nonfiction of the year, today Barnes & Noble and NOOK announced their booksellers'  selections for the Best of 2012 in six essential categories.


April 24: "[The HST] lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way..."

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.