A House for Mr. Biswas, First Edition, 1961
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In other news, we’ve just announced our September partner bookstore, The Regulator in Durham, North Carolina! Founded in 1976, when Durham was still “a tobacco and textile town,” and named for freethinking North Carolina colonial revolutionaries, The Regulator has been a stalwart of Durham life and independent bookselling. This month their store was vandalized: read their post about it (“the Regulator Bookshop welcomes knowledge seekers”) and the inspiring support it generated here.
But enough about us! The autumn looms, a moment of frenzy in the book-making and -selling world. Perhaps it is the ancient association with returning to school. (The summer is a moment of frenzy also, for opposite reasons I guess.) If you’re looking for round-ups of what’s ahead, here are a few fall book previews, in slightly different flavors: from on high: Associated Press; aiming for fun: Entertainment Weekly; industry talk: Publishers Weekly; in a more bohemian vein: The Millions.
There also seems to be an awful lot going on in the way of books turning into other things. Every couple of years a smaller press produces a book that catches on like wildfire. A recent, dramatic example is Elena Ferrante’s multi-volume fictional account (from the excellent and adventurous small press Europa) of two young women’s coming of age in mid-century Naples, beginning with My Brilliant Friend and called as a group The Neopolitan Quartet, which on some days seemed to be achieving Harry Potter-like levels of fandom. Jason Horowitz visited the Italian set of the series’ forthcoming HBO adaptation for Vogue, and HBO released a teaser a few weeks ago for what will become a thirty-six episode series. Ferrante seems to be maintaining her besieged pseudonimity throughout the experience.
The announcement that Greta Gerwig (of Lady Bird fame) is preparing a new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, with Saoirse Ronan and Meryl Streep, arrives amidst a boomlet in Little Women appreciation, including this one from the great Joan Acocella in The New Yorker and one more from Sarah Blackwood in The New Republic. In LitHub Daily Anne Boyd Rioux asks why more boys don’t read Little Women. (Little Women also puts in an appearance in My Brilliant Friend, see above.) Depending on how old you are, you remember Little Women movies with Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, and Kirsten Dunst or with June Allyson, Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh, and an expiring Margaret O'Brien, or, even further back, Katherine Hepburn. A veritable army of marvelous women, big and small.
Meanwhile, Judy Blume, apparently sitting in a Hollywood conference room, asked her readers on Twitter to recommend one of her books to adapt for the screen; the prevalent response seems to have been, all of them please. News emerged of lots of other upcoming book-based projects for screens of various sizes: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five; Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko; Shirley Jackson’s so-filmable The Lottery; Keira Knightley playing the French novelist Colette in a #metoo vein; Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon; Salman Rushdie’s pre-fatwa epic, Midnight’s Children; James Baldwin’s If Beal Street Could Talk, from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins; and bookstore-owning novelist Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, with Julianne Moore. Readers exulted in the innocent pleasures of Netflix’s adaptation of Jenny Han’s YA favorite To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda, who is also making a book out of his reassuring morning and evening tweets, is working on a movie based on a biography of director-choreographer Bob Fosse. LitHub Daily invites readers to “watch a mansplainy scene from the adaptation of Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife,” in which a younger woman writer somehow becomes subsumed into the career of her famous older husband, more #metoo avant la lettre. Another cinematic Harry Potter spin-off, written by J. K. Rowling, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, comes out in November. The Stephen King adaptation phenomenon picks up yet more steam. Emily Temple at LitHub ferrets out the hidden writers behind thirteen movies we might not have known they were hiding in. And the National Endowment for the Humanities reminded us of a wonderful forgotten program to produce films of American short stories for TV. Going in the other direction, Hannah Gadsby, creator of the ground-breaking Netflix stand-up special Nanette, is writing a book.
In addition to this enthusiasm for the bookish it seems that Hollywood is cutting out the bound-and-printed middleman and lifting stories straight from WattPad, the story-sharing app beloved of aspiring writers and their fans, especially those on the margins of the publishing mainstream who are finding so many new opportunities in the digital sphere. Interestingly, WattPad seems to have managed to create a welcoming, troll-free social environment, unlike YouTube and other social platforms that have been found to gravitate to extremes and seem to bring out the worst in their communities. In other realms of print-digital relations, even as some “Instagram poets” publish books and even possibly drive the noted increases in poetry sales, the New York Public Library is creating Instagram versions of beloved novels.
More augustly, the very fun classicist Mary Beard had nothing but appreciation for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of Richard Harris’s popular trilogy about Cicero (the subject of her less widely read doctoral dissertation), which has performances through September 8. We’ve missed our chance to see the stage adaptation of Paul Muldoon’s great poem “Incantata” at the Galway International Arts Festival, but we can read some of Muldoon’s thoughts about it here.
In adaptations for the ear, two big audiobooks for the fall are Sally Field (voice forever remembered from “You like me! Right now, you like me!”) and Michelle Obama, reading their own memoirs. Book Riot addresses a long-simmering controversy: what southern audio books are narrated with decent accents? Mary Kay McBrayer gives the thumbs up to Sisi Spacek’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Nick Offernan’s Tom Sawyer, also to Alice Walker and Toni Morrison reading themselves. And with Spill by Leigh Fondakowski, LA Theater Works brings us a documentary audiobook drama—about the British Petroleum oil disaster—with a full cast headed by Malcolm-in-the-Middle’s Jane Kaczmarek. It sounds like something people would have listened to around the radio, super fireside chat.
Finally, we said good-bye this month to Nobel-Prize-winning author, V. S. Naipaul. Naipaul was born of an Indian family in Trinidad, and moved to London in his youth, willfully to embrace the culture and language and tradition of his adoptive country. Not always easy to love, but hard not to be engrossed by, Naipaul left a lasting imprint on the literature of colonial encounter. Pankaj Mishra and Nikil Saval plunge deeply into his contradictory legacy in an exchange of letters in n+1. For Naipaul’s own self-account you can read his installment in the Paris Review’s encyclopedic series of writers’ interviews here. (Barack Obama included A House for Mr. Biswas, perhaps Naipaul’s most widely loved work, on his summer reading list.)
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