'Under the Wide and Starry Sky' author Nancy Horan discusses Robert Louis Stevenson and his marriage
Millions know the stories by Robert Louis Stevenson such as “Treasure Island” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
But fewer are acquainted with the story of his marriage to American Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne, which is the subject of author Nancy Horan’s new novel “Under the Wide and Starry Sky.” Here at the Monitor we selected “'Under the Wide and Starry Sky” as one of the best books released this January.
In an interview with Shelf Awareness, Horan, who is also the author of the novel about one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s romantic relationships titled “Loving Frank,” said she was inspired to take on the story of the Stevensons after she visited California and heard that Stevenson had lived there. She then discovered he was in the area because he had followed Osbourne there to try to persuade her to marry him.
“Their married life was definitely what books are made of, filled with great happiness, difficulty, illness, almost constant travel, interesting and famous people, and the quest for financial stability,” Horan said. “What interested me was the complexity of their relationship: it was beautiful, complicated, and at times aggravating to both of them.”
In the review of the novel by Shelf Awareness, Cannon Beach Book Company’s Valerie Ryan said Horan is successful in her imagining of how the two would have spoken based on their fictional works and letters, with “results that flow so logically and naturally the reader never questions the novel's authenticity.”
“Under the Wide and Starry Sky” was released on Jan. 21.
The novel “Child of God” was released in 1993 and centers on former prisoner Lester Ballard, who was falsely imprisoned for rape and now, after being released from prison, wanders an isolated area of Tennessee. In the movie version, actor Scott Haze of “As I Lay Dying” (also directed by Franco) portrays Lester, while “Klondike” actor Tim Blake Nelson plays the local sheriff. Franco is also appearing in the film.
Multiple McCarthy novels have been adapted for the screen, including Best Picture winner “No Country for Old Men,” “The Road,” and others.
“Child of God” is still seeking an American distributor.
Check out the trailer for “Child of God” below.
British-Chinese author Xiaolu Guo recently commented on the dominance of Anglophone novels in the international book market during the Jaipur Literature Festival in India this weekend. The session on “the global novel” featured six international panelists, including American writers Maaza Mengiste, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Jonathan Franzen.
Guo, who was selected by Granta Magazine as one of the best young British novelists and was recently shortlisted for the Orange Prize, criticized the way "our reading habit has totally been transformed by the mainstream."
"Our reading habit has been stolen and changed," she said. "For example, I think Asian literature is much less narrative … but our reading habit is more Anglo-Saxon, more American.… Nowadays all this narrative [literature is] very similar, it's so realism, so story-telling driven … so all the poetry, all the alternative things, have been pushed away by mainstream society."
"I love your work, Jonathan," she told Franzen, "but in a way you are smeared by English-American literature.… I think certain American literature is overrated, massively overrated, and I really hate to read them."
Guo, who was the only author on the panel who writes in multiple languages, said that her experience in writing in Chinese is charged with personal and ideological baggage, which is not always the case when writing in a non-native language. “When I write in English, I feel freer,” she said. However, she added, "In a way the easiest and laziest way is to write in English. What a struggle to write in any other language than English." She said it is a struggle to do so because one might have to wait for years for the book to be translated as a way to reach a larger audience. The most widely translated language in the world is English.
"If you write in Japanese or Vietnamese or Portuguese you have to wait … to be translated, and translated literature never really works immediately as English literature unless it wins the Nobel or some big prize," Guo told the Jaipur audience. "I'm saying language is a passport. A dubious, dangerous passport too.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri also criticized America’s literary culture. "[It is] shameful the lack of translation, the lack of energy put into translation in the American market.... It is embarrassing, to me, and I think just getting out of America for a little while makes you much more conscious of that," she said.
Lahiri, who currently lives in Italy, says that she has not read any books in English for the last two years. "I was looking at [an Italian paper's] 10 best books of the year, and they chose seven books written in English," she said. "This was astonishing to me. I can't imagine the New York Times ever choosing seven books written in a language other than English as their choices … there is so much literature that needs to be brought forward and the danger now is that it's getting even less exposure."
Franzen expressed concern with the "homogenization of global culture."
“Isn’t part of what’s happening with globalization, that every place is getting more and more alike?" he said. "That kind of experience, [like] 'Wow, Achebe has shown me something about Africa' … my worry as a reader is that becomes almost a nostalgic experience, the very idea of cultural difference.” He later said, “The worst way to be universal is to try to be universal.”
"One of the consequences of globalism, it seems to me, and I think we see it even in the literary world, is that things become less horizontal and more vertical," Franzen told the panel. "If you can imagine everything perfectly translated, that we have massive subsidies for translation, that anyone publishing in Romanian in Romania, [their book] is instantly available in all languages everywhere, you are still faced with the finite amount of reading time that an individual reader has … in a funny way, you'd think there'd be greater diversity in what is read, but I worry that the trend in a more global literary marketplace is even more towards a kind of star system and a vast sea of people who can't find an audience."
Lahiri was not so convinced that multicultural literature could be dismissed. Statistics from 2007 show that only 3% of books published in the U.S. are translations.
"Translation is the key," she said. “[It is] the bridge for so many of us to be able to read across our limitation.… ‘Global’ is a commercial term, [but] ‘universal’ [is about] writers transcending barriers of ourselves.”
With much of North America in the seasonal deep freeze this week, readers have not only sweaters and parkas and blankets to keep warm but an active literary imagination.
Thanks to the power of reading, we can vicariously travel to warmer times and places on the magic carpet of the written word.
With that in mind, Chapter & Verse gives its readers a small respite from the frigid temperatures gripping the continent right now courtesy of a few thoughts on summer.
Yes, we said summer – a season that now seems ages away but which continues undiminished in the great poetry that’s been written about it through the ages.
Here are five snippets of summertime verse from “A Dream of Summer: Poems for the Sensuous Season,” an anthology published by Beacon Press in 2004 and still available at the bookstore or your local library.
With the mercury abysmally low and arctic wind rattling the windows, get ready to warm your hands around these lyrical reflections on June, July and August.
"Summer is all a green air –
From the brilliant lawn, soprano
Through murmuring hedges
Accompanied by some poplars;
In fields of wheat, surprise;
Through faraway pastures, flows
To the horizon’s blues
In slow decrescendos."
From “Summer Music” by May Sarton
"Sixty-seven years, oh lord, to look at the clouds,
the trees in deep, moist summer,
daisies and morning glories
opening every morning
their small ecstatic faces –
Or maybe I should just say
How I wish I had a voice like a meadowlark’s...."
From “While I Am Writing a Poem to Celebrate Summer, the Meadowlark Begins to Sing,” by Mary Oliver
"An English summer – and a sense of form
Rides the five senses that dispute their claims.
Lawns leveled against nature, airs which warm
Each plant, perpetuate the hours and names.
We cannot see beyond the blue; no storm
Vies with the children ardent at their games."
From “An English Summer,” by Elizabeth Jennings
"Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date."
From “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day,” by William Shakespeare
"Summer brought fireflies in swarms.
They lit our evenings like dreams
we thought we couldn’t have.
We caught them in jars, punched
holes, carried them around for days."
From “Childhood,” by Sharan Strange
Danny Heitman is a Monitor contributor.
It’s official: 2014 is the Year of Reading Women.
In other words, if 2013 was the year of recognizing male bias in literature, then 2014 is the year of recognizing great women writers.
That’s the trend sweeping the literary community this year, thanks to the efforts of an array of advocates – from a small literary journal declaring 2014 the year of the woman writer to a handful of authors who have created clever Twitter campaigns and adopted women-only reading resolutions – who are championing reading, reviewing, and promoting female writers.
It’s a move, and perhaps a new cultural movement, designed to counter the gaping gender gap recently revealed in the literary community.
For the past three years, Vida, an organization for women in the literary arts, has been conducting a count of how many books reviewed by prominent publications were written by women and the results have been dispiriting.
At Harper's, in 2012, 90 percent of the book reviewers were male and the publication reviewed five times as many books by male authors as by female authors.
At the New Republic, in 2012, roughly 90 percent of book reviewers were also male and the publication also reviewed five times as many books by male authors as by female.
And at the New York Review of Books, in 2012, roughly 18 percent of reviewers were women and 22 percent of books reviewed were written by women, according to Vida’s study.
Though there were bright spots – The New York Times, Poetry Magazine, and Granta did better – overall, most publications showed a significant gender bias toward male reviewers and reviews for books written by male authors.
And according to a 2011 study, that bias even extends to children’s books.
Perhaps that’s why, in 2010, author Jodi Piccoult attacked the New York Times for its focus on “white male literary darlings.”
“Women writers and writers of color are underserved and undervalued by the contemporary literary community,” Daniel Pritchard, editor of literary journal the Critical Flame, wrote in a blog post. “What we can see today are the outlines of a culture still dominated by white male figures, and by the presumption of their essential literary merit, everywhere from major publishing houses to small literary journals. As far as mainstream literary culture is concerned, white males are the default.”
As a result, Pritchard has announced that he is dedicating one year wholly to reviewing women writers and writers of color in the Critical Flame.
He told the Guardian he hopes Vida’s study and the Critical Flame’s resolution heralds “a much larger shift in our society.”
Author and artist Joanna Walsh started a Twitter hashtag #readwomen2014, created New Years cards showing some of her favorite female writers, and began a Twitter sensation when she started tweeting 250-odd names of female writers, including Jane Austen, Angela Carter, and Zadie Smith.
“Perhaps the problem lies not with whether women are published, but how,” she writes for the Guardian. “Lionel Shriver complained when her 'nasty book' Game Control was given a 'girly cover', and I've listened to female writer friends grouse when their books are given flowery covers though their writing is not; when reviews, or even their publishers' press releases, describe their work as 'delicate' when it is forthright, 'delightful' when it is satirical, 'carving a niche' when it is staking a claim.”
Walsh follows the lead of two – male – authors who embarked on women-only reading resolutions.
Author and literary critic Matthew Jakubowski has announced a reading resolution to read and review only books by women in 2014 and Jonathan Gibbs, an author and journalist, undertook his own female-only reading experiment last year to challenge his own assumptions.
It’s a bold way to ring in a new year and perhaps a new chapter for women writers and the wholesale effect may be that a new cultural movement will sweep the literary community, finally giving due attention to the great women writers of the past and present.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
For years, the anonymous poster behind the Twitter account @GSElevator (Goldman Sachs Elevator Gossip) has been sharing the funny and sometimes darkly comic comments overheard in … well, in an elevator at the major investment banking company.
And now the unknown author has a book deal with Simon & Schuster to release a book said to be titled “Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance and Excess in the World of Investment Banking.” According to CNBC, the book will be released under the name "J.T. Stone."
The book will be “the definitive exposure of investment banking culture … shedding new light on a world that is far more abhorrent, and yet, way more entertaining than people can imagine,” according to the writer.
The @GSElevator Twitter account currently has more than 600,000 followers and the person behind the handle encourages others to submit conversations they overhear in the elevators as well.
Some are simply humorous, such as the recent tweet “Shut up about the weather. It's cold everywhere. We're all cold. We get it.” But other tweets paint a less flattering portrait of Goldman Sachs employees, including a conversation in which one worker tells another, “Your place in history depends on what you do for others, not what others do for you” and the second replies, “I want a place in East Hampton, not history.”
(If you decide to check out the Twitter account, be aware of language and some inappropriate content.)
“Straight to Hell” is scheduled for release this October.
Will the world of Oz created by L. Frank Baum get a new TV adaptation?
NBC has reportedly ordered 10 episodes of a TV series titled “Emerald City” that will be based on Baum’s works. However, the series may take a more sinister turn than fans of the 1939 MGM musical would expect.
According to Deadline, the show will be “a modern and dark reimagining of the classic tale of Oz in the vein of Game Of Thrones, drawing upon stories from Baum’s original 14 books that include lethal warriors, competing kingdoms, and the infamous wizard as we’ve never seen him before.”
Famous protagonist Dorothy Gale will be featured on the show and will be a “headstrong 20-year-old” who “is unwittingly sent on an eye-opening journey that thrusts her into the center of an epic and bloody battle for the control of Oz.”
The show is coming from Matthew Arnold, who is the creator and showrunner for the NBC series "Siberia."
Another "Oz"-themed TV project on which we previously reported is a medical drama titled “Dorothy.” The show was in development at CBS at the time.
In his first interview since “60 Minutes” aired a 2011 exposé alleging fabrication in “Three Cups of Tea,” author Greg Mortenson appeared on NBC’s "Today Show" Tuesday admitting that he ignored concerns about fraud in his bestselling memoir and thanking the investigators who brought the allegations to light.
Since the 2011 investigation, Mortenson has admitted that events in the book did not occur in the sequence presented. In 2012, he was also ordered to return $1 million to the charity he created as part of a settlement over the mishandling of funds.
“It still has puzzled me and why there wasn’t, at some point, in your mind, an alarm that went off and said, ‘This isn’t right in some way,'” Tom Brokaw said in the interview.
“There were alarms, Tom,” Mortenson said. “I didn’t listen to them. I was willing to basically kill myself to raise money and help the projects.”
In “Three Cups of Tea,” Mortenson, with co-author David Oliver Relin, recounted his failed attempt to climb K2, the world’s second-tallest mountain in the Himalayas. When he stumbled, sick and exhausted, into the Pakistani village of Korphe and was nursed back to health, he vowed to repay the good deed by building a school. That led to the foundation of an ambitious nonprofit organization, the Central Asia Institute, and a follow-up memoir in 2009, “Stones Into Schools."
But in 2011, friend and fellow adventurer and author Jon Krakauer tipped CBS into investigating Mortenson’s book and charity. The investigation found key parts of the book were inaccurate and that charity funds were being misspent. CBS found that “nearly 30 of the 54 schools Mortenson’s charity built in Afghanistan … were empty, built by someone else, or not receiving support,” according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The revelations sent Mortenson’s book, charity, and life into a tailspin. His books dropped off bestseller lists, contributions to his charity were off by 80 percent or more, and Mortenson himself experienced severe stress and health problems. Co-author Relin committed suicide in November 2012.
But in the NBC interview, Mortenson said he owes a debt or gratitude to those who uncovered the issues.
“In maybe a strange, ironic way, I’d like to thank CBS and Jon Krakauer because, had they not brought these issues up, we could have gotten into more serious problems,” Mortenson said.
He also said that he continues to stand by the stories outlined in the book.
“I stand by the stories. The stories happened, but … not in the sequence or the timing,” Mortenson told Brokaw.
“What I regret is that we were under tremendous pressure to bring about a million words down to 300,000 words.”
As for the mishandling of large amounts of money – an investigation by the Montana attorney general’s office found that the Central Asia Institute spent $4.9 million advertising Mortenson’s books and $4 million buying copies of them to give away at publicity events, as well as illicit spending of charity funds on speaking fees to Mortenson, charter flights for family vacations, and clothing – Mortenson accepted blame, if obliquely.
“I always have operated from my heart. I'm not really a head person. And I really didn't factor in the very important things of accountability, transparency,” Mortenson told Brokaw.
Is America ready to give Mortenson a second chance?
Brokaw seems to think so.
"I think I speak for a lot of people when I say America is a country of second chances, if people learn from the first experience,” he said.
Mortenson appeared contrite: "I've been given the privilege to come back again and be committed to this and do it in a more humble and – understanding way. I'm gonna try as hard as I can never to make the same mistakes again."
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
The film “The Monuments Men,” the story of a group trying to save works of art and culture from the Nazis during World War II, is set to arrive in theaters on Feb. 7. The movie is based on a nonfiction book of the same name by Robert M. Edsel
“Monuments” is directed by George Clooney and stars Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, “Downton Abbey” actor Hugh Bonneville, Cate Blanchett, “The Artist” actor Jean Dujardin, John Goodman, and “Moonrise Kingdom” actor Bob Balaban.
The book by Edsel was first released in 2009 and the film adaptation changes the names of the people involved. “We’re not doing a documentary, and we wanted to be able to give these guys flaws,” Clooney told Entertainment Weekly. “They were real people, and you don’t want to give real people flaws. So we changed the names so we could mess with them a little bit.”
The movie was originally set to be released this past December but was moved to its current release date.
One trailer for the upcoming film shows Clooney, who plays Frank Stokes, gathering the group to save valuable works of art.
“I’m to put a team together together and do our best to protect buildings, bridges, and art before the Nazis destroy everything,” he tells Damon.
Later, Clooney describes the importance of their mission.
“If you destroy an entire generation of people’s culture, it’s as if they never existed,” he says. “That’s what Hitler wants and it’s the one thing we can’t allow.”
In his interview with EW, Clooney said he tried for a mix of serious issues and humor in the film.
“There was a lot of important stuff to talk about, but we wanted it to be fun and entertaining,” he said. “You want to be able to laugh at a lot of the stuff, too.”
Check out the full trailer.
Yes, Amazon currently offers suggestions for other products you might like based on what you’ve previously purchased.
But will the bookselling giant now ship items before you’ve even bought them?
Amazon recently patented what is called “anticipatory package shipping.” Through the system, the company would ship items based on such factors as a customer’s wish list, the purchases they’ve made before, and how long a customer’s cursor stays over a particular item, according to NPR.
Then the item could stay on a truck or at a nearby hub until the order actually takes place, if it does.
What would happen if a customer didn’t actually want the item? According to the patent, the company says it could give the item to a customer as a gift anyway or give the customer a discount on the item to prevent a return that could be expensive.
It all comes back to Amazon wanting to get purchases to customers as quickly as possible – the company stated in the patent that it sees wait time for shipping as something that “may dissuade customers from buying items from online merchants.”
When contacted by the Wall Street Journal, an Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.
Of course, Amazon may not move forward on this idea. But if they do, it remains to be seen how the public will respond. Is anticipatory shipping convenient – or intrusive and off-putting?