Last night, the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation awarded 10 Whiting Awards. Since 1985, these honors have gone annually to emerging writers in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and plays. The award comes with $50,000 and is "based on accomplishment and promise."
Though you may have never heard of some of the recipients, these people are writers to watch. For proof, just look at the list of past winners: Jonathan Franzen (1988), Justin Cronin (2002), Kim Edwards (2002), Daniel Alarcon (2004), Yiyun Li (2006), Allegra Goodman (1991), Michael Cunningham (1995) and many other best-selling authors and iterary superstars.
Michael Dahlie, A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living
Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Sightseeing
Lydia Peelle, Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing (and a Nashville resident!)
Elif Batuman, The Possessed
Amy Leach, writing a book of essays about animals, plants and stars
Said Sayrafiezadeh, When Skateboards Will Be Free
Matt Donovan, Vellum
Jane Springer, Dear Blackbird
L. B. Thompson, Tendered Notes (a chapbook)
David Adjmi, Stunning
What other writers are on your "to-watch" list?
Today on the Book Case, we're featuring a post by music writer—and Nick Hornby reader—Carla Jean Whitley, who gave the new album from Hornby and Nashville musician Ben Folds a spin. How do the lyrics of Lonely Avenue compare to Hornby's novels and short stories? Find out.
Nick Hornby has practically made a career of being a music fan. Though he’s written a number of novels and books of essays, the success of High Fidelity (and its mark as required reading in the libraries of most 20- and 30-something men) cast him as the listener, the man who takes as much comfort in his CD collection (or vinyl, or mp3—whatever it is you listen to these days) as he does in anything else. Last year’s Juliet, Naked only solidified Hornby’s reputation as a writer who loves to write about music.
But last month, Hornby also stepped into the limelight as a writer who also writes for music. On Sept. 28, Ben Folds’ Lonely Avenue, for which Hornby wrote the lyrics, was released by Nonesuch Records.
It’s an interesting twist of fate for a novelist who once wrote, upon hearing the soundtrack to the film adaptation of his book About a Boy, “Seeing one’s words converted into Hollywood cash is gratifying in all sorts of ways, but it really cannot compare to the experience of hearing them converted into music: for someone who has to write books because he cannot write songs, the idea that a book might somehow produce a song is embarrassingly thrilling.”
Better yet, an essay earlier in the book from which that line was taken—Songbook, a collection of 31 essays about songs—centered on a Ben Folds song.
Hornby analyzed “Smoke,” declaring Folds “a proper songwriter, although he doesn’t seem to get much credit for it, possibly because rock critics are less impressed by sophisticated simplicity than by sub-Dylanesque obfuscation: his words wouldn’t look so good written down, but he has range.” Now, Hornby has become precisely that kind of lyricist.
Even in this shorter form of writing, Hornby exhibits the same wit, sarcasm and character development as in his novels. And just as in his fiction, the characters aren’t always likable at first glance. But Hornby provides a glimpse into each person’s motivation and character. In the opening track, “A Working Day,” the narrator vacillates from being his own biggest fan to his own worst critic, neatly capturing the artist’s struggle.
“Levi Johnston’s Blues,” the chorus of which was inspired by Bristol Palin’s now-ex-boyfriend’s Facebook profile, is the story of an 18-year-old boy who finds himself surrounded by the paparazzi and sorting through what matters to him after impregnating the vice presidential candidate’s daughter. It’s a tale we’ve heard plenty of over the past several years, but Hornby’s lyrics offer insight into what Johnston may have thought as he faced both the media and fatherhood.
From start to finish, the songs on Lonely Avenue are often every bit as quotable and sarcastic—and with Folds’ music, even more infectious—as Hornby’s literary work.
The final recipe this month is another one from Around My French Table, our October cookbook of the month. One of the best things about this book is the way Dorie Greenspan makes even the most complicated recipes seem doable, with complete, thorough instructions. Try this one and impress your family this winter!
I call this dish a daube, which means it’s a stew cooked in wine and also means that it’s made in a daubière, or a deep casserole, in my case, an enamel-coated cast-iron Dutch oven. However, a French friend took issue with the name and claimed that what I make, while très delicieuse, is not a daube, but boeuf aux carrottes, or beef and carrots. She’s not wrong, but I’m stubbornly sticking with daube because it gives me the leeway to play around (see Bonne Idée) and permission to toss in orange zest, a typically Provençal addition, without having to clear it with the terminology police.
My first-choice cut for this stew is chuck, which I buy whole and cut into 2- to 3-inch cubes myself. Since the meat is going to cook leisurely and soften, it’s good to have larger pieces — larger than the chunks that are usually cut for stews — that hold their shape better. (If you’ve got a butcher, you can ask to have the meat cut at the shop.) My favorite go-alongs are mashed potatoes, celery root puree, or, spaetzle.
If you’re serving a crowd, you can certainly double the recipe, but if the crowd is larger than a dozen, I’d suggest you divide the daube between two pots or put it in a large roasting pan and stir it a few times while it’s in the oven.
Be prepared: See Storing for how to make the daube ahead — a good idea.
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide pieces
1 3½-pound beef chuck roast, fat and any sinews removed, cut into 2- to 3-inch cubes
2 tablespoons mild oil (such as grapeseed or canola)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 yellow onions or 1 Spanish onion, quartered and thinly sliced
6 shallots, thinly sliced
1 garlic head, halved, horizonally, only loose papery peel removed
1½ pounds carrots, trimmed, peeled, halved crosswise, and halved or quartered lengthwise, depending on thickness
½ pound parsnips, trimmed, peeled, halved crosswise, and quartered lengthwise (optional)
¼ cup Cognac or other brandy
1 bottle fruity red wine (I know this sound sacrilegious, but a Central Coast Syrah is great here)
A bouquet garni — 2 thyme sprigs, 2 parsley sprigs, 1 rosemary sprig, and the leaves from 1 celery stalk, tied together in a piece of cheesecloth
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Put a Dutch oven over medium heat and toss in the bacon. Cook, stirring, just until the bacon browns, then transfer to a bowl.
Dry the beef between sheets of paper towels. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to the bacon fat in the pot and warm it over medium-high heat, then brown the beef, in batches, on all sides. Don’t crowd the pot — if you try to cook too many pieces at once, you’ll steam the meat rather than brown it — and make sure that each piece gets good color. Transfer the browned meat to the bowl with the bacon and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Pour off the oil in the pot (don’t remove any browned bits stuck to the bottom), add the remaining tablespoon of oil, and warm it over medium heat. Add the onions and shallots, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the onions soften, about 8 minutes. Toss in the garlic, carrots, and parsnips, if you’re using them, and give everything a few good turns to cover all the ingredients with a little oil. Pour in the brandy, turn up the heat, and stir well so that the brandy loosens whatever may be clinging to the bottom of the pot. Let the brandy boil for a minute, then return the beef and bacon to the pot, pour in the wine, and toss in the bouquet garni. Once again, give everything a good stir.
When the wine comes to a boil, cover the pot tightly with a piece of aluminum foil and the lid. Slide the daube into the oven and allow it to braise undisturbed for 1 hour.
Pull the pot out of the oven, remove the lid and foil, and stir everything up once. If it looks as if the liquid is reducing by a great deal (unlikely), add just enough water to cover the ingredients. Recover the pot with the foil and lid, slip it back into the oven, and cook for another 1½ hours (total time is 2½ hours). At this point the meat should be fork-tender — if it’s not, give it another 30 minutes or so in the oven.
Taste the sauce. If you’d like it a little more concentrated (usually I think it’s just fine as is), pour the sauce into a saucepan, put it over high heat, and boil it down until it’s just the way you like it. When the sauce meets your approval, taste it for salt and pepper. (If you’re going to reduce the sauce, make certain not to salt it until it’s reduced.) Fish out the bouquet garni and using a large serving spoon, skim off the surface fat.
Serve the beef and carrots moistened with sauce.
I like to use shallow soup plates for this stew. If I had enough small enameled cast-iron cocottes, I’d spoon the daube out into the little casseroles and let each guest dig into one. Alas, I’ve got only a few.
Like all stews, this can be kept in the refrigerator for about 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you are preparing the daube ahead, don’t reduce the sauce, just cool the daube and chill it. Then, at serving time, lift off the fat (an easy job when the daube’s been chilled), reduce the sauce, and season it one last time.
Recipe reprinted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), with permission from the publishers. Copyright 2010, all rights reserved.
Can a movie version of another sort of advice book be just as big a hit? EW reports that Lionsgate is adapting mega-bestseller What To Expect When You’re Expecting.
Like He's Just Not That Into You (and Valentine's Day and Love Actually), the story will be presented as a series of related vignettes.
I would not have predicted this adaptation, but movies about pregnant women—from Father of the Bride Part II to Knocked Up to Juno—are perennially popular.
What advice book will be next?
Reading about the movie adaptation of Life of Pi, I was reminded of a deal announcement from Publisher's Marketplace (posted yesterday):
Charlotte Rogan's THE LIFEBOAT, a story set at the turn of the twentieth century, about a wealthy young woman whose life is forever altered when the ship she is honeymooning on mysteriously explodes and she is cast adrift on an overcrowded lifeboat with thirty-nine strangers, to Andrea Walker at Reagan Arthur Books.
What weird settings are you attracted to?
The year's scariest holiday is right around the corner. If you're looking for a book to get you in the Halloween spirit, allow us to offer up a few off-the-beaten-path ideas from the BookPage Archives.
Game Control by Lionel Shriver
HarperPerennial • $13.95 • July 3, 2007 (originally published 1994)
Getting through Lionel Shriver's backlist is taking more time than it normally does when I discover an author I like (I picked up Kevin, my first Shriver, in February of 2007). Her earlier books are hard to come by in the real world (two are completely out of print), and I've resisted ordering them online—partly because I want to save/savor them, and partly because I tend to stumble on them in bookstores at just the right time to read them.
Such was the case with Game Control, which I came across just after finishing Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. The two books, though written 16 years apart, have common threads in the theme of population control and the fevered fanaticism of the characters who believe in it. Franzen's Walter Berglund wants to stop people from having children—Shriver's Calvin Piper takes things a step further, proposing that culling the human population is the only way to save the planet. We meet him through American do-gooder Eleanor Merritt, who despite herself ends up charmed by the misanthropic Englishman (if not entirely converted to his cause). Can the human race be saved without sacrificing what makes us human?
Like all Shriver's novels, the book poses more questions than answers, but it's not all about issues. Game Control is engrossing and darkly funny, as you can see in the excerpt below, in which Eleanor recalls her first meeting with Calvin 16 years earlier:
Halfway through dinner at the luxury hotel, [Eleanor] had been overcome by nausea. . . . She was gripped by anxiety that she had no personality at all, and concluded that if she had failed to concoct it by twenty-one, it was now time to make one up.
"I can't eat this," she announced, fists on the cloth. "I'm sorry. The idea of our sitting here paying hundreds of shillings for shellfish while people right outside the door starve—it makes me sick."
Calvin nimbly kept eating. "If you truly have ambitions to work in the Third World, young lady, you'll have to develop a less delicate stomach."
"How can you!" she exclaimed, exasperated as he started on another prawn. "After we've spent all day forecasting worldwide famine by the year 2000!"
"That's just the kind of talk that whets my appetite."
"Well, it kills mine."
"If you feel so strongly about it," he suggested, "go feed them your dinner."
Eleanor had picked up her plate and left the restaurant. One of the waiters came running after her, since she'd marched off with their china. Eleanor looked left and right and had to walk a couple of blocks to find a beggar, and was promptly confronted with the logistical problem of delivering her food aid and returning the plate. So she stood dumbly by the cripple with elephantiasis, whose eyes were either uncomprehending or insulted. He rattled his tin, where she could hardly muck shrimp, now could she? It struck her, as the saffron sauce dripped from the gilt-edged porcelain, that just because you could not walk did not mean you had no standards of behaviour, which parading about Nairobi with a half-eaten hotel entrée after dark clearly did not meet.
What are you reading this week?
an unknown Indian teen, Suraj Sharma, according to Variety. The 17-year-old beat out more than 3,000 other actors to play the role of a young man stuck on a life raft with a tiger in the 3D film, which has a December 2012 release date. Ang Lee is set to direct.
Read more about Life of Pi and Yann Martel's other books on BookPage.com, or listen to our podcast about Beatrice & Virgil, Martel's most recent—and most controversial!—novel.
Tomorrow's edition of Reading Corner is all about spooky books for Halloween—from a thought provoking picture book from Jon J Muth to the latest teen novel by Rick Yancey.
It was a lot of fun to put this issue together because Halloween was always my favorite holiday during childhood. Besides the obscene amount of candy and the dressing up, I also loved October 31 for the books.
I haven't lived at home for years, but I would bet my mom still puts out a basket filled with tattered copies of The Berenstain Bears Trick or Treat, The Soup Bone, Little Witch and various craft books with ideas like, "peeled grapes in a bowl feel just like eyeballs!"
What are your favorite kids books for Halloween?
Sign up for Reading Corner for chilling suggestions (okay, some of them are just fun!). As usual, tomorrow's issue includes a super giveaway.
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy has been making people laugh since the mid-1990s. Best known for his "you might be a redneck if" jokes, he also appeared on "Blue Collar TV" and currently hosts the popular game show "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?"
Now he turns his hand to children's literature with Hide!!!, and in a Q&A he tells BookPage why it's important for children to get off the couch:
"I recently read an article that said that children that play outside develop better problem solving skills and have a stronger ability to work within a group. But my generation, as parents, has been so overprotective that we have taken away many of those opportunities. I'm not sure how you fix it."