3/25/21 — Literary News Roundup

Michael Ducker
4 min readMar 25, 2021

I’m thinking I’ll make this newsletter one that comes out the final Thursday of every month. Frankly, I rarely feel there’s enough literary news in a two-week period for me to write a newsletter that’s not just outrightly plagiarizing the New York Times Books section for the week. The result is that I get burned out on this newsletter pretty easily. So the schedule I’m looking at is this: “The Gnashing of Teeth and the Smashing of Keyboards” will come out the first Thursday of every month, and “Literary News Roundup” will drop the final Thursday of every month. That leaves me with two or three Thursdays each month in need of content. I’m not entirely sure what I want to fill those with, but I will keep you in the loop! Anyway, onto the news:

In the Industry

The Paris Review has announced that Emily Stokes will take over as editor of the magazine. Stokes takes over the position from Emily Nemens and is only the sixth editor to lead the magazine since its 1953 launch. Stokes previously worked as a senior editor at The New Yorker and served as an editor for T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, and The Financial Times. I must admit that, in the time that I’ve been paying attention to the literary world, I have not found The Paris Review to have lived up to its reputation. Hopefully, Stokes can help push it to a more accessible — and I mean that in terms of literal access, not regarding the difficulty of content — place without sacrificing on quality.

It’s Always Award Season

The Bancroft Prize winners for 2021 have been announced. I realize this isn’t strictly speaking “my field” since the prize is for writing on American history. But as Hayden White once wrote, “It is because historical discourse is actualized in its culturally significant form as a specific kind of writing that we may consider the relevance of literary theory to both the theory and practice of historiography” (Figural Realism, 1). Oh — and I have a personal interest in it. That’s always been the guiding principle of this newsletter. Ergo — Bancroft Prize winners. They are Katrina: A History, 1915–2015 by Andy Horowitz and Unworthy Republic, The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory by Claudio Saunt. As the titles indicate, the former considers Hurricane Katrina as a disaster with a century’s worth of backstory, while the latter is a dignified history of the Indian removal that took place in the United States in the 1830s.

Release Radar

Timothy Brennan’s biography of the great literary critic Edward Said — entitled Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said — has been released by Farrar, Straus, and Gabel. Brennan was a student of Said at one point, and his biography is based not only on personal recollection, interviews with friends and former students, the contents of Said’s memoir — it is also based on “FBI files, unpublished writings, and Said’s drafts of novels and personal letters.” If unpublished novels and FBI files don’t draw you in, then I’m not sure what will. In addition to being one of the great literary analysts of his — or any — generation, Said was a trenchant political commentator and activist. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of this biography. Oh, and ignore the God-awful New York Times review of this book. (March 23rd, 2021 via Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

There’s a vogue for “internet novels” around the publishing industry. Or so it seems. The lengthy press cycle for Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts having concluded, we are now in the waning days of a protracted press cycle for Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This. The book is about an extremely online protagonist — an authorial stand-in, I’m told — who spends her time being extremely online while living in the real world. I read a review that made it sound exciting but writing out that summary makes it sound worthy of disposal. Well, I’m sure it’s better than I’m making it out to be. (February 16th, 2021 via Penguin Random House).

I also wish to direct your attention to a translation. The novel is The Twilight Zone by Nona Fernández. It is the Chilean novelist’s sixth book, and like others by her, takes place during the Pinochet regime. In a fragmented, postmodernist way, the novel’s narrator attempts to follow the story of a “man who tortured people,” and in doing so, unravel the dark knot of her nation’s recent past. Oh, and did I mention it’s translated by Natasha Wimmer? A Chilean novelist being translated by Natasha Wimmer always gets my Roberto Bolano-loving heart excited. (March 16th, 2021 via Graywolf Press).

Kazuo Ishiguro — best-selling author, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, writer of material sought after for movie adaptation, etc. — has a new novel out for the first time in six years. Klara and the Sun is a dystopian science fiction novel narrated by an “Artificial Friend,” who is the companion of an ill 14-year-old girl. It’s about that ambiguous intimacy that exists — or could exist — between humans and machines. And probably about a few other things, but I haven’t read it yet since it’s brand new — give it a go. (March 2nd, 2021 via Penguin Random House).

Until tomorrow,

Michael Ducker