Meet Transrealism – the New Literary Buzz…?

Claims of a new 21st century literary movement called “Transrealism” are, so far, just that – claims….

Why one should not swim in Black Lagoons (image courtesy Xombie News Network)

There have been a number of cross-genre fiction experiments being spun out these days. The most famous (and commercially successful) of these experiments is likely steam punk, a blending of elements of historical and science fiction, though the commercial success crown might belong to cyberpunk, the blending of “high tech and low life” that crosses elements of hard boiled detective fiction with dystopian visions.  Other experiments have crossed science fiction with horror, sometimes with impressive results, sometimes with unintentionally humorous ones.

A recent piece from The Guardian book blog suggests that now authors have crossed into new territory – they’re crossing realism, traditional territory of literary fiction, with some narrative thread that hearkens to science fiction, fantasy, or horror. The writer at The Guardian is sure this is the first new literary movement of the 21st century. Continue reading

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In the Shadow of Jack Bruce…

Among bassists of the Classic Rock generation, Jack Bruce casts a long, challenging, inspiring shadow…

Jack Bruce (image courtesy All Music Guide)

Jack Bruce, the bassist for the very first “super group,” Cream, died late last week.

There have been many tributes, including a lovely one from S&R’s own Pat Vecchio. Pat is a bass player himself, who, while he pooh poohs his skills, is capable of some decent licks. As he notes in his essay, he plays a Gibson SG because it looks like the Gibson EB-3 that Bruce played during those brief, glorious years of Cream’s  existence. And he even admits that he got the blues outfit he plays with to do one of Cream’s signature tunes, “Born Under a Bad Sign,” so that he could play, as he modestly puts it, “a simplified version of Bruce’s bass line.”

I know something of how Pat feels. I was a much more serious player in my day (I won’t get into that now; this is about Jack, not me). One of the ways the band I played in warmed up was by playing another Cream signature tune…here’s Cream doing the number – with Jack playing that Gibson EB-3: Continue reading

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Angry Bards and Amazon Reviewers…

In which one author tells another, to paraphrase one well known critic, nothing can please many nor please long but representations by the general public…

One hopes book reviewers read the books they review (image courtesy Wikimedia)

In a recent New Republic essay, author Jennifer Weiner takes author Margo Howard to task. Weiner’s reason for castigating Howard? Howard seems to have reacted negatively to some of the reviews she received on Amazon.

Okay, stop laughing at the Weiner’s intentional or unintentional disingenuousness and bear with me as we discuss this. Continue reading

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Maeve Binchy and the Well Written Happy Ending…

Maeve Binchy’s fictional world is one where those who try to do good turn out well…as for the others….

Maeve Binchy, Nights of Rain and Stars (image courtesy Goodreads)

As I’ve made clear by now to any who read my essays on the books I read, I have devoted 2014 to trying works outside my normal range of reading interests. As a result I’ve read some popular YA literature (and evoked a storm of controversy), tried a couple of of works by the most and celebrated of the recently anointed and highly admired “genre literati” (and found them interestingif not as arresting as some of my colleagues do), and taken a look at the power that formula fiction seems to have on the reading public.

I suppose it is in that spirit that I picked up a copy of Maeve Binchy‘s Nights of Rain and Stars. The wildly popular Irish author produced numerous bestsellers and proudly proclaimed herself a happy composer of what are commonly called in the parlance of publishing “beach reads” – effortless, entertaining and ultimately forgettable tales.  Nights of Rain and Stars seems to me to be exactly the sort of book well qualified to be a satisfying “beach read.” Continue reading

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The Final, Hopefully Completely Updated 2014 Reading List…

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” – Oscar Wilde

This is a stack of books. There are lots of these at my house, (image courtesy freedigitalphotos.net)

(For previous posts in this series look here, here, and here.)

After several threats to do so, I finally take a bit of time to update the 2014 reading list. Several elements have played into the list expanding well beyond its original limits: new friendships with publishers who asked me to review books, interesting finds at used book stores, decisions to read books so I’d know a little better what I was talking about when I castigated their authors.

So here we go. This, I hope, will catch up the 2014 reading list. Anything else that swims into view will go on the 2015 reading list. (I offer links for books that I have already written essays about.) Continue reading

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The Song or the Singer? Trying to Understand the Success of Nicholas Sparks

In the case of a writer like Nicholas Sparks, perhaps it’s that he gives readers a familiar story arc time after time that explains his success…

A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (image courtesy Goodreads)

After reading a couple of superb pieces of literary fiction by J.F. Powers and Shelby Foote, I detoured from the 2014 reading list to take a look at the work of a writer whose success I’ve wondered about for some time.

Yep. That’s right. Literary fiction snob and crusty old professor Jim read him some Nicholas Sparks.

It happened accidentally. Lea and I were doing some book rearranging a few days ago and, as we shifted books from one bookcase to another, we came across a copy of Nicholas Sparks’s third novel, A Walk to Remember, a book Lea received from an aunt several years ago that had languished on our shelves. She moved to toss it into our donation box for the local library, but I stopped her. My words were something to the effect of “I’ve abused this guy’s work without having read it. I am going to read this novel and write about it.”

And so we proceed.

Sparks writes a form of genre fiction, something that is called, I believe, “romantic drama.” This subgenre of romance (a genre I have written about before, albeit in rather different form) always imposes obstacles on the lovers that they must overcome. In the majority (perhaps all) of Sparks’s work, as I understand it, that obstacle is one that one cannot overcome, only become reconciled to: death. In A Walk to Remember, the story of two high school kids who fall in love only to have that love tragically disrupted, one of the characters turns out to be terminally ill (another recurring motif in the author’s work, as I understand it). In most (perhaps all) of Sparks’s works, a main character is coping with a loved one who is dead or dying. This is the case in Sparks’s breakthrough book, The Notebook. And in his second novel, Message in a Bottle. And in a number of his other books.

At this point readers who know my tastes are thinking to themselves that I am being remarkably coy about a writer who clearly uses the “Motown approach” to writing fiction: one creates (or borrows) a successful formula, repeats it until audiences find it stale, then works to revise or refine the formula until it becomes successful again, and the cycle repeats itself. This is certainly true of Sparks and his approach to writing novels. It has earned him many millions of dollars, however, so it is difficult to argue that he shouldn’t do it.

What one must do then is consider each novel as a literary work. This is a fair way to assess Sparks’s work  and to hold him to account for what he achieves – or fails to. Continue reading

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It’s a Southern Thing…Shelby Foote’s Love in a Dry Season

Shelby Foote’s tale of upper class Southerners behaving badly is redolent with that peculiarly disturbing characteristic called “Southernness…”

Love in a Dry Season by Shelby Foote (image courtesy Goodreads)

Let me me do what any good Southerner would do when asked for an explanation – tell you a story…

When I was writing the original draft of my novel The New Southern Gentleman, I had the ear (and the somewhat bemused interest) of a New York editor who was, I remember, working at that time for Henry Holt. He read a good chunk of the manuscript and recommended that I contact a writer friend of his, a fellow by the name of Walker Percy, even going so far as to send me Percy’s home address. I wrote to that estimable personage, author of a work I found influential, The Last Gentleman, and therefrom ensued a somewhat brief but memorable correspondence. One suggestion that Percy made I ignored – not out of disdain for the advice, which was excellent I now know, but out of what we might call “the anxiety of influence.” After reading several chapters of my manuscript, he recommended that I read “my friend Shelby’s book Love in a Dry Season.” (For those of you who don’t know, Walker Percy and Shelby Foote were best friends for 60 years.)

It was a sin of omission I have now corrected. My apologies, Mr. Percy, for delaying so long in taking your insightful advice. Love in a Dry Season is a marvelous novel, not just for its ability to compel you to read a novel about people you don’t much like, but, too, for its inherent grasp of how to convey what being Southern means.

So now, to help you understand this assessment, here’s another story.  Continue reading

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