The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday night for her 848-page novel The Luminaries. At 28, Catton is the youngest person to ever win the prize, and the second New Zealander. (Keri Hulme won for The Bone People in 1985.) The Luminaries is a vast, intricate murder mystery set in 19th century New Zealand and organized into 12 sections named for the signs of the Zodiac. It has the sprawling plot of a Victorian novel but a 21st century sense of formal experimentation. In 2014, the prize will (controversially) be opened to Americans — as The Guardian put it, ominously, "The Americans are coming." But Justine Jordan writes that Catton is too talented to be overshadowed by contenders from across the Atlantic: "Catton's talent is already shining too bright for that to be a problem for her." Robert Macfarlane, the chairman of the judges, said of The Luminaries, "We read it three times and each time we dug into it the yields were extraordinary, its dividends astronomical."
- For The New Yorker, Brad Leithauser writes about unusable words: "I sometimes regret the passing out of our lives of profanity — not the four-letter words themselves (which are, of course, everywhere) but the instinctual belief that some terms should be considered unfit for public use. There's an odd comfort to this notion; it testifies to the enduring power of language, a faith in the potency of mere syllables to shock and outrage. Well, profanity shocks nobody anymore, and the writer seeking unusable words naturally turns to the dictionary's dimmest nooks and crannies. That's part of the appeal of words like 'pulchritude' and 'depthless' and 'puissant' and 'incomplex.' To any serious writer they whisper, 'I dare you.' "
- At BrainPickings, Maria Popova features Salvador Dalí's sinister, sinewy illustrations of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote.
- NPR's Linda Holmes considers James Franco's new book: "It's not really a novel; it's really a collection of ... stuff. Loosely — like, 'XXXL shirt on XXXS body' loosely — based on the 12 steps of addiction treatment programs, it consists of short stories, snippets of scripts, and what it's hard not to envision as Things James Franco Wrote Down On The Back Of A Receipt One Time About Acting And Being Famous. ... In other words, it's the James-Franco-iest book he could have written, because there's nothing to wrap yourself around. It's not very good, but it's not unambitious, and it's not lazy. It's about him but it's not, it's revealing but it's not, and in the end, it's interesting but it's not."
- Four shortlists for the National Book Awards — in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature — were announced Wednesday morning. In fiction, the shortlist featured major names such as Jhumpa Lahiri, George Saunders, Thomas Pynchon and Rachel Kushner, with the jazz scholar, NYU writer-in-residence and novelist James McBride the closest thing on the list to an underdog. Meanwhile, three of the five poetry finalists were featured in Craig Morgan Teicher's 2013 poetry roundup for NPR. He called Lucie Brock-Broido "a patient seamstress of subtle and ornate poetic tapestries," Mary Szybist "a humble and compassionate observer of the complicated glory of the world," and Frank Bidart "one of the true living masters of contemporary poetry." The complete list follows:
Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers
Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland
James McBride, The Good Lord Bird
Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge
George Saunders, Tenth of December
Jill Lepore, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
Wendy Lower, Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields
George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America
Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832
Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief
Frank Bidart, Metaphysical Dog
Lucie Brock-Broido, Stay, Illusion
Adrian Matejka, The Big Smoke
Matt Rasmussen, Black Aperture
Mary Szybist, Incarnadine
Young People's Literature
Kathi Appelt, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
Cynthia Kadohata, The Thing About Luck
Tom McNeal, Far Far Away
Meg Rosoff, Picture Me Gone
Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints