The Two-Way
6:44 am
Mon November 18, 2013

Book News: Remembering Doris Lessing, A Contrarian Who 'Went For Broke'

Originally published on Tue November 19, 2013 1:48 pm

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Doris Lessing, who died on Sunday morning at age 94, was the author of more than 50 books and became the 11th woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature. But as NPR's Vicki Barker noted, Lessing called the idea that she was a feminist icon "stupid." The no-nonsense Lessing also responded to news that she had won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature with a muttered, "Oh, Christ! I couldn't care less," and famously turned down the title Dame of the British Empire because, she said, "There is no British Empire." Margaret Atwood wrote in The Guardian: "Some of Lessing's energy may have come from her outland origins: when the wheel spins, it's on the edges that the sparks fly. Her upbringing also gave her an insight into the viewpoints and plights of people unlike herself. And if you know you will never really fit in – that you will always be 'not really English' – you have less to lose. Doris did everything with all her heart, all her soul, and all her might. She was sometimes temporarily wrong, as in the matter of Stalinist communism, but she never hedged her bets or pulled her punches. She went for broke."
  • Louis D. Rubin, the writer, critic, creative writing professor, publisher and giant of Southern literature died Saturday a few days shy of his 90th birthday. Shannon Ravenel, who co-founded Algonquin Books with Rubin, told the News & Observer, "He's given credit for re-awakening everybody's understanding of how important Southern literature had been." He was a mentor to writers including Kaye Gibbons and Annie Dillard. Dillard told the news outlet, "His notion of teaching was the biggest influence on how I taught, in that your students are your students for life."
  • Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C., has become the second bookstore (after the Harvard Book Store) to participate in "Recovering The Classics," a project that lets customers print their own versions of books such as Moby Dick, The Picture of Dorian Gray and 48 other works in the public domain, with covers crowdsourced from artists around the world. Lena Khidritskaya Little, the bookstore's director of marketing and publicity, wrote in an email to NPR, "Recovering The Classics is partnership between The Creative Action Network, a marketplace connecting artists with causes, and DailyLit, a platform for delivering great fiction in short installments." The books are printed on-demand in the store's in-house printing press, nicknamed "Opus."
  • Following BuzzFeed Books' announcement that it won't run negative reviews, Maria Bustillos argues for the value of a harsh critic: "If he can persuade an author into a better understanding, surely that is the consummation most devoutly to be wished. The reader who disagrees clearly and well is the greatest treasure of all. How else can we progress? What else is the point of all that hard work?"
  • Children's book author Barbara Park, who had ovarian cancer, died Friday at age 66, according to Random House, her publisher. Her Junie B. Jones books — more than 30 in total — followed the fast-talking Junie B. as she navigated the perils of kindergarten and first grade, from smelly schoolbuses to missing teeth. Park told Publisher's Weekly last year: "It was never my intention to write an ongoing book series. The initial plan was to write four books for the new early chapter book series. The truth is, Junie B. sort of hit the page running and -- quite unexpectedly -- kept on going."

The Best Books Coming Out This Week:

  • My Mistake is a memoir of editor Daniel Menaker's life and long career, including 26 years at The New Yorker, which he calls a "brilliant crazy house." Set in the world of literary New York, it is undeniably insider-y and gossipy. (The stories about Tina Brown are not to be missed.) But the human experiences he describes — especially the hard stuff, like family, illness and death — will be familiar to anyone.
  • Linda Rodriguez McRobbie's Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings is a directory of real princesses from Nzinga of Ndongo, who kept male concubines, to the Chinese princess Pingyang, who "raised and commanded her own army of more than 70,000," to Elisabeth of Austria, who wore a meat mask to bed. McRobbie says in her introduction that she's tired of the image of meek, "two-dimensional" women in pink gowns. She writes: "Historical princesses have been capable of great things as well as horrible things; they've made stupid decisions and bad mistakes, loved the wrong people or too many people or not enough people. They are women who lied, murdered, used sex as a weapon, or dressed like a man to hold onto power. They weren't afraid to get a little dirt, or blood, on their hands. These women were human, but the word princess, along with its myriad connotations, often glosses over that humanity."
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