Reading at Cornelia Street Cafe

Posted August 28th, 2011 by A. N. Devers

Wow. I haven’t posted here for a very long time. But, I’m going to reform, starting with the exciting news that I’m reading at Cornelia Street Cafe on Wednesday, August 31st. Evening starts at 6 pm. I hope to see y’all there.

Book & Book-Like Advent: Day 21

Posted December 6th, 2010 by A. N. Devers

In high school, my awesomely strange group of friends and I used to hang out in bedrooms and basements and read Daniel Pinkwater stories out loud to each other.  Pinkwater’s collection Young Adults includes the novella “Young Adult Novel,” which is about outcast weirdos like we were. I wish I could still quote from it because I could remember lines for years. It killed me. It’s out of print. Someday I’ll dig out my copy and write more about it. I want to say that it’s a subtly subversive deconstruction of the boredom of high school, but that doesn’t seem to do it justice.

Book & Book-Like Advent: Day 22

Posted December 4th, 2010 by A. N. Devers

This is one of the three books I have on hand to give away to unsuspecting readers who enter my house. I learned about it in 2005 Lost & Found essay in Tin House by Diana Fox. I gobbled up that essay and went to the bookstore right away and tracked the book down. It’s a smart, scrumptious read by a 20th century woman of letters that most Americans have never heard of, even though (or perhaps because) she wrote 101 Dalmatians.  If you order it from your bookseller, ask them to procure you the paperback with the illustrated cover. That’s what I do. The new edition features a scene from the movie, which is a bland, perhaps terrible, attempt at a Merchant Ivory production.

Book & Book-Like Advent: Day 23

Posted December 3rd, 2010 by A. N. Devers

Opening Ceremony x NYABF Book Covers

The idea that even one person will love a hardback book enough to decorate it with a stylish, protective book cover might just help me sleep tonight. Design-oriented boutique Opening Ceremony collaborated on 5 book covers for the New York Art Book Fair with artists Marcel Dzama, Mitch Epstein, Spike Jonze, Miranda July, and Geoff McFetridge.

Book & Book-Like Advent: Day 24

Posted December 3rd, 2010 by A. N. Devers

Notebook Paper Embroidery Kit

Because sometimes you want to say something fleeting but frameable. Available at The Curiosity Shoppe.

The Book & Book-Like Advent: Day 25

Posted December 1st, 2010 by A. N. Devers

Düller & Dietrich Lub Notebook

I bought this Dietrich Lubs pen embedded in the Düller notebook for the person in my life who carries a small notebook in his pocket at all times with a little pen slipped into the book’s elastic band. This simplifies his ritual, but respects each element of it.

The Roundup – Overlooked Great American Novelist Part II

Posted September 15th, 2010 by A. N. Devers

What an exciting day. If there is such a thing as having a productive day on twitter, I’d say today is one. After reading Meghan O’Rourke’s piece “Can a Woman Be a “Great American Novelist”?” I started thinking about my favorite overlooked writer, Helen DeWitt, and started the hashtag #overlookedgreatamericannovelist.

Perhaps I should say first that I think that the concept of a “Great American Novelist” is a delicious, not entirely healthy or helpful, but sometimes useful, piece of hyperbole. It’s not unlike a pork rind — all pop and crackle.

Still, I’ve been watching this list develop in awe. I’ve counted close to a hundred authors, over half of which have been mentioned (or retweeted) by at least two people. I will point out that my intention was to highlight overlooked women authors, but that isn’t what happened with the meme. It became an equal opportunity free-for-all, which doesn’t bother me in the slightest. As novelist Allison Lynn said in a tweet: “Asked recently who he thinks is overlooked, Coetzee said every writer today is overlooked—or soon will be.”

Here are some selected recommendations and a list of the ten writers who have risen to the top of the #overlookedgreatamericannovelist heap. This is not a scientific sampling. I used chicken scratches to count and I’m not particularly skillful at counting. I also factored in the retweets. (Sorta hoping I’m the first person to have used the phrase “factored in the retweets.”)

1. Percival Everett (congratulate novelist @mat_johnson and his 10+ retweets)

2. John Crowley (first suggested by novelist @jameshynes, I love Little, Big)

3. Dawn Powell (strong out of the starting gate with writer @thebookmaven‘s support)

4. Shirley Ann Grau (big ups first from librarian @wssstephens)

5. J. F. Powers (writer @levistahl first mentions)

6. Peter DeVries (writer @maudnewton nominates DeVries “on strength of The Blood of the Lamb alone”)

7. John P. Marquand (Mr. Moto spy novelist first mentioned by writer @sarahw)

8. Evan S. Cornell (on my facebook page by grad school classmate)

9. Kathryn Davis (with strong encouragement from @thebookslut)

10. Joy Williams (first by @rumaan, a hearty second from @katebernheimer who republished The Changeling at The Fairy Tale Review Press)

Runners-up: Ward Just, Andrew Holleran, Gayl Jones, and Jane Bowles (these folks essentially tied for the last few places but I wanted to stop the list at 10). Other top contenders include writers I personally wouldn’t consider overlooked like Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, Toni Morrison, and Sandra Cisneros. But it’s all a matter of perspective.

The thing I love most about the list: I haven’t read eight of the authors. Time to build a new bedside bookstack.

Lastly a shout out to @matthunte, who contributed the most overlooked-novelist suggestions. All excellent too.

Helen Dewitt – Overlooked Great American Novelist Part I

Posted September 15th, 2010 by A. N. Devers

This past week I’ve still been adjusting to my new teaching schedule. For that reason I’ve barely been able to look at the current literary news and debate. I’m glad I finally took time to digest Meghan O’Rourke’s piece “Can a Woman Be a “Great American Novelist”?” I had been completely ignoring #Franzenfreude (except for a picture I snapped at Words! bookstore in Asbury Park of books by Franzen and Weiner side by side in the window) probably in part because I never felt particularly compelled to read The Corrections. I bought it, talked about it with friends, got excited about its prospects, followed the Oprah scandal, and told myself I’d get to it eventually. That, we know, was a while ago. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have avoided the book for its instant ubiquity alone, but maybe it has a little bit to do with it.

The main reason I think I’ve avoided reading The Corrections is because of a book called The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt. (No, it isn’t the basis for the Tom Cruise movie, but the fact that people always ask that is depressing). It came out less than a year before The Corrections, and I happened to pick it up first based on a rapturous recommendation from my brother who, because he’s five years older and a voracious reader, has long been a literary sage.

DeWitt’s book is a masterpiece and when it came out a few reviewers said so (isn’t there a Rotten Tomatoes for book reviews yet?). It’s structurally complex, moving, and challenges the boundaries of the reader’s intellect. And not many people read The Last Samurai. Today, it’s $4.00 on Amazon. I was completely wrapped up with this book when The Corrections came out. Now I regret not reading Franzen’s book because I can’t compare the two. I only have my gut feeling that DeWitt should have shared the spotlight with Franzen. She should have received more than a thimbleful of the hoopla. She certainly could have slid right into Franzen’s Oprah Book Club spot when he got himself uninvited. Or maybe she wouldn’t have wanted to. Or maybe, since her book was out first, she should have received an invitation from Oprah first.

Today, Dewitt can’t find a publisher for her second book that she completed years ago. Her difficulty was explored (and the novel was excerpted) in n+1′s sixth issue.

My gut feeling is that DeWitt was politely received, but the closely-guarded recipe for creating a juggernaut, a la The Corrections, was denied her, not because it was undeserved or impossible, but because of what O’Rourke calls, “the problem of unconscious gender bias and how it affects the ways we think about accomplishment and authority.”

One more quick thing, I often think of this woman as “Great American Novelist” question in the form of a different question. Why isn’t there a bildungsroman by a woman, with a female protagonist, as acclaimed as The Catcher in the Rye?

On the Outskirts

Posted August 30th, 2010 by A. N. Devers

Mural on the Philly housing project neighboring Poe's house

As people close to me know, I’ve been obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe and Poe’s houses for quite a while. Even though I wrote a fiction manuscript at Bennington for my MFA thesis, I was able to sneak in a non-fiction essay on Poe’s houses because I did a third-semester genre switch. The lecture then became the beginnings of my graduate lecture, and now one of many reincarnations of the essay is in the Fall issue of Tin House, coming out any day now. I feel thanks and gratitude to all those who encouraged my Poe project along the way. An excerpt of the essay is now up online at Tin House.

The View From My Doorstep

Posted July 20th, 2010 by A. N. Devers

This is my view every time I leave my apartment building. The mansion, now apartments, was built by the man who invented Chiclets. Mr. Selden tells me that it is also one of the most haunted buildings in Brooklyn. He’s heard that three servants once died in a fire while stuck in the elevator. I have no idea where he gets his information.

Photo credit: Brownstoner

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