Round-Down: The Hogarth Series Will Reinvent Shakespeare’s Works As Novels


Jeanette Winterson’s novel The Gap of Time, released only one week ago, is the first book launched of a larger series, called The Hogarth Shakespeare. The series, from the revered Vintage Books, plans to do the very exciting and almost unthinkable: reimagine Shakespeare’s classic plays as novels penned by some of today’s finest modern writers. The Hogarth Shakespeare series’s press release speaks to the larger mission of the project, noting that “these new versions will be true to the spirit of the original dramas and their popular appeal, while giving authors an exciting opportunity to reinvent these seminal works of English literature.” Winterson’s The Gap of Time takes its cue from Shakespeare’s beloved and strange The Winter’s Tale.

Other writers contracted to contribute books to the series include Pulitzer-Prize–winner Anne Tyler, who will adapt The Taming of the Shrew, and Margaret Atwood, who will adapt The Tempest. View a full list of the forthcoming titles here.

The project will explore and reveal the universality of Shakespeare’s enduring and compelling works–less “updates” to the originals than reinventions of the classics. What I am most looking forward to seeing is how his characters breathe on the page anew: in different bodies, with different blood, in different times, but navigating much the same emotional and thematic terrain as in their origin stories.

The novels also have the fascinating potential of showing us the implicated offstage action and interiority of these people and their conflicts. There is, in some sense, no way to exit. The stories will of course look and feel valuably different–and Winterson’s The Gap of Time is historic, a nod to the four-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, with which this series smartly coincides.

Winterson discussed Shakespeare’s enduring legacy in an article published on Vintage’s website, in anticipation of the book’s release, writing that “When people now say Shakespeare’s difficult, we shouldn’t read Shakespeare, it’s crazy, because all you need to do is immerse yourself in those plays and a whole new world begins to open up for you. It’s never a waste of time.”

Now it seems there is another way to read Shakespeare, to enjoy his legacy as it moves into a larger legacy of great writers and great writing being made today. To purchase your copy of The Gap in Time, click here.

Literary Enemies: Gabriel García Márquez vs. Alejandro Zambra

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Literary Enemies: Gabriel García Márquez vs. Alejandro Zambra

Disclaimer: García Márquez has no enemies but the F.B.I.

A few weeks ago I went to a panel at the National Book Festival that featured Alejandro Zambra, a Chilean writer I like a lot.[1] (Yes, I started reading him because of the James Wood piece about him in The New Yorker; yes, I recommend that you do the same.) The panel had initially been conceived as a tribute to Juan Rulfo, whose novel Pedro Páramo turns sixty this year, but the Rulfo family did not comply in some way that was left vague but definitely involved money, and so instead the panel was about Time.

No one knew what to make of this, including the authors. They made a lot of comments about Rulfo anyway, and talked about history and archives and such. They did the best they could. I spent most of the time trying to make eye contact with Zambra in order to tell him telepathically that his newly translated book, My Documents, is one of the best story collections I’ve read all year, but I don’t think he got the message. He was too busy fending off questions about Gabriel García Márquez.

To be clear, this panel had nothing to do with García Márquez. None of the authors mentioned García Márquez. But somehow, when the audience questions began, there he was, hovering over us like the ghost of Melquíades. Which was fine, I guess, until somebody stood up and asked the four Latin American writers on stage,

“Do you think creativity is just gone from Latin American writing entirely now that García Márquez is dead? I mean, do you think anyone will ever have an original idea again? And if not, why don’t you guys just collaborate?”

I wish I were making this up, and I wish I could tell you that the writers had not responded to this question with perfect courtesy, as if it were a reasonable thing to ask. I hope they laughed about it later. I hope they were surprised by the question, but I highly doubt it. I wasn’t. I have long thought that English-language reading of Latin American fiction suffers from a severe case of García Márquez Disease, and this was more proof.Continue Reading

The Best Short Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week: “Away” by Karin Lin-Greenberg


Yuval Noah Harari argues in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind that much of humankind’s success as a species is owed to its ability to create fictions. Harari focuses primarily on large-scale, societal fictions, say the nation or the corporation. In “Away” (Green Mountains Review), Karin Lin-Greenberg explores our smaller, more personal fictions, and the various ways we use them to aid us in our day-to-day lives.

Lin-Greenberg begins the story by immediately asking us to question how close to reality this particular story will be.

“When the inflatable bouncy castle I’m jumping in with a handful of five-year-olds is lifted off the ground by a gust of wind, I think of my cousin Garnet and her story of being snatched by a hawk.”

Viral video hoaxes aside, kids aren’t snatched up by hawks, and it would take an enormous a gust of wind to pick up a bouncy castle filled with five-year-olds (and the narrator, who we find is eighteen). So are we in the realm of magical realism? The narrator quickly answers that by flashing back to her cousin Garnet’s story—about a hawk snatching her and flying her away when she was three—as told to the narrator and a group of other kids at summer camp.

“Here’s a scar from the talons,” she said, pointing to her shoulder, and the Arrowhead boys leaned in close to look, and I shook my head because the scar was not from talons but from her cat, Marie Curie, that she tried to dress up as Martha Washington to make a video for some homeschool history project… I waited for the other kids to laugh at her story, but no one did, and Victor, one of Arrowheads, said, “So cool. We should call you Garnet Hawk,” and then everyone called her that for the rest of the summer, in an impressed way as if she was someone really special.”

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Do-Overs: The Bad Guy Has a Moment


Complicated bad guys are nothing new. There’s something delicious about complex entertainment; we’re able to envision ourselves in the shoes of the antihero and exact revenge or serve righteous justice, but we’re also able to vicariously live through their actions that lie outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior. When it comes to our villains, we like them to act out, but we also like to see them struggle.

The term antihero can be traced to the 18th century, but the idea is an older one, and a sister to the idea of an antagonist. While heroes embody traits society wants to laud, the antihero is much more an everyman struggling with a world he does not control. Antiheroes reflect and shamelessly celebrate our baser qualities; while we can’t always imagine ourselves going to the same limits, their behavior is always rooted in a familiar reality.

The good baddies are certainly still having their moment on TV. Looking for an antihero to love? Try Al Swearengen (Deadwood), Tony Soprano (The Sopranos), Don Draper (Mad Men), Walter White (Breaking Bad), Dexter Morgan (Dexter), Hannah Horvath (Girls), Nucky Thompson (Boardwalk Empire), Hank Moody (Californification), Dr. Gregory House (House), Jax Teller (Sons of Anarchy), Boyd Crowder (Justified), Ben Linus (Lost), or Mr. Burns (The Simpsons).Continue Reading

Reading as Intoxicant, Part II: Ten Books That Are Basically Drugs


Don’t do drugs, kids; read books instead. More often than not, they inspire the same chemical rush with less brain trauma.

Herein is a list of ten books with intoxicating, stimulatory, or hallucinatory qualities for the literarily psychotropically-inclined. Though no doubt many deserving books would be right at home on this list, these are just a few of my personal favorites.

Note: I’ve never actually done any of the drugs listed in ‘Closest Chemical Equivalent’ but I did perform copious amounts of Wikipedia research. Still. I’m guessing. Please don’t tell me if I’m wrong. Just know you are right and I tentatively applaud your chemical expertise.

1. Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini






Closest Chemical Equivalent: Mushrooms.Continue Reading

Round-Down: On the Necessity of Banned Book Week

2711081060_ba91f69796Just in time for Banned Books Week, the first book to be banned in New Zealand in twenty years is available in the United States.

The young adult novel, Into the River by Ted Dawe, which ironically won the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Award, was banned last month from being distributed in bookstores and libraries across the country. Upon hearing this news, Jason Pinter, founder of the US-based Polis Books, decided to publish the title in the States. He told Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report that “any time a book is banned, all it serves to do is get the book more readers.”

I wonder though if that is true. Most banned books are books that are award winners in their own right. For example, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, among other prestigious awards, the year it was published, yet continues to face bans in school districts to this day. Is the reverse perhaps possible—that the more attention a controversial book receives from awards, the more likely it is to come to the attention of those who would ban it?

Regardless, the most interesting debate to come out of this past week has to be the question of whether banned books exist in the U.S. Originally put forth by Slate writer Ruth Graham, the idea that the banned book movement is all but dead is one that librarian Scott Dimarco does not share.

In an opinion piece originally published in The Conversation and since picked up by news outlets such as The Huffington Post and Time, Dimarco shares his concern that most Americans do not tend to pay much attention to banned book week (a point evinced by Graham’s piece, which is entitled, “Banned Book Week Is A Crock”). Dimarco admits that he went as far as to ban a book from his library in order to provoke a response from the community. The response had more bark than bite, with many taking to social media and in person protests of the ban–and almost no one actually taking measures that the library has in place in order to reverse or contest the ban.  This suggests that the issue is this: most people take freedoms of speech for granted and are less interested in celebrating the legacy of fighting for protections of these civil liberties than they are in voicing outrage over any contemporary restrictions to these same liberties.

Is it just that as Americans, we’re complacent about our history? Before we knock Banned Books Week for being tired or revel too comfortably in the notion that we no longer need it, we only have to look down under to see that intolerance tends to rear its head again once we as a culture become too complacent in remembering and celebrating and defending how far we’ve come—and how far we still have to go to continue to improve our social justices.

“Sometimes she is a space” : Janice Lee’s Reconsolidation: Or, It’s the ghosts who will answer you

Janice-Lee_Reconsolidation-Or-its-the-ghosts-you-will-answer-you_001Taking up the mantel of memory and elegy is no easy task, but Janice Lee’s new book Reconsolidation: Or, it’s the ghosts who will answer you embraces the ghosts. The text is not so much a reflection on writing, loss, memory, and death, but a twisted projection of those topics. The medium is under as much consideration as the memory. By keenly understanding limits of language, Lee creates “a site of conjuration.” And so Reconsolidation doubles down on space and time.

As readers, we ride through a long period of mourning activated by the death of Lee’s mother in a single night; and, yet, the book’s brevity at seventy some pages and a multiplicity of empty space makes time spent reading feel like “the speed / of a blinking eye.” These physics are constantly under interrogation:

“I feel sometimes that time is moving in the wrong
direction…How does
the past persist in the present and swallow the

Because, besides the neuroscience of memory Lee presents in the text itself, time operates swiftly, consolidating and reconsolidating the evidence of experience, memory, and outer sources to create a shifting arrangement. The effect is dizzying. It’s no wonder that Lee has written elsewhere about László Krasznahorkai’s winding sentences and the long takes of Béla Tarr’s filmic adaptations: she’s treading similar ground in creating a book that only takes an afternoon to read, and, at the same time, involves a process of memory that feels eternal, where “it would / only take a few minutes, they said. But it felt like / an eternity.”Continue Reading

The Best Short Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week: “Stamp Fever” by Colette Inez

BSS-Pshares-Header1What constitutes the difference between delusion and imagination? Where does one end and the other begin, or are they related at all? Colette Inez explores these intersections in her story “Stamp Fever” (The Georgia Review), from the perspective of a young boy struggling to overcome family difficulties.

Our introduction to the young protagonist comes when he has received a gift from his father, a huge box of “of more than a thousand stamps from around the world.” Inez makes clear the fourteen-year-old boy’s delight through her brisk, busy descriptions:

“Plain everyday offerings of flags, past U.S. presidents, and state capitals were his plentiful, but his favorites were African, and included sumptuous flora and faun, Gold sculptures of Benin, and had the heroic faces of national leaders…”

But amidst the boy’s joy at the gift, Inez introduces the conflict.

“[The stamps’] intensely bright touches of colors contrasted with the off-white walls and heavy brown furniture, the tan-fringed matching lamps and the gray worn carpet of the one-bedroom apartment he shared with his mother. She immediately complained about the gift: ‘It’ll make a mess, all those little pieces of paper.’ … The boy feared his mother’s disapproval, the sullen moods, her fits of silence after he failed to hang up his clothes or polish his shoes. ‘You’re becoming like your father’ was the ultimate affront.”

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Literary Teachers and Their Lessons

10.1 literary teachers

I have a new teaching job this fall, and so I’ve been thinking even more than usual about classrooms, and teachers, and the hold they have on our imaginations. It’s strange to realize, right before I walk into a classroom to teach, how clearly I can remember most of my own teachers’ faces, even many years later, how indelible certain moments of being called on or reprimanded or encouraged still are for me.

I seem to return again and again in my own writing to the world of the school, and many of the books that have left marks on me over the years are also set in that world. On the page, the teachers who’ve most stuck with me don’t seem to be the simple ones. They’re problematic, sometimes outright sinister. They leave their students changed, but not always (or only) for the better. As teachers, I’m not sure all of them are worth celebrating; as characters, they certainly are.

And so here, for your back-to-school pleasure, is a brief survey of some of the teacher-literature on my bookshelf:Continue Reading

Round-Down: McDonald’s Happy Readers Initiative Fated for Great Success



Roald Dahl’s estate, the National Literacy Trust, and McDonald’s have teamed up in a smart, new installment of the fast food franchise’s recent UK literacy initiative, Happy Readers. Fourteen-million Roald Dahl books have been created specifically for the project, featuring excerpts from some of the author’s classics, and will be distributed with Happy Meals in the United Kingdom.

In an interview for The Guardian, Director of the National Literacy Trust Abigail Moss said, “Many parents will have enjoyed the wonderful world of Roald Dahl when they were young and now they’ll be able to share these iconic stories with their children. The scale of the campaign will reach millions of children, including many who haven’t owned a book before, inspiring them to enjoy reading and improving their life chances.” This isn’t an empty public relations promise, either: around fifteen percent of children do not own a book, and McDonald’s’ considerable reach will help not only to change that disappointing fact, but to encourage many young people to grow into lifelong readers.

The facts compel: young readers, and those read to when young, are better set up for success. If there is any criticism of the Happy Readers initiative, it is that it has only taken off in the UK and has not yet been launched in other countries.

Unlike Chipotle’s Cultivating Thoughts series, McDonald’s Happy Readers seems to risk little in distribution. I approached Chipotle’s venture with a degree of hesitation for its implicit suggestion that literature is disposable. Happy Readers, however, is circulating the work via specially printed booklets. In addition, the initiative isbeing produced by a company that, according to Gus Lubin and Mamta Badkar at Business Insider, has “daily customer traffic (62 million) greater than the population of Great Britain.” It’s a project that is especially exciting for its growth potential–the prospect of this project moving its franchises globally.

This is a truly thoughtful and smart move on the part of a company that has come under relentless fire for its public face as a fast-food industry giant uninterested in the well-being of its customers.