Jonathan Franzen says that when he first read Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters, it seemed to him ”obviously superior to any novel by Fox’s contemporaries John Updike, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow.” — From Franzen’s introduction to Desperate Characters: A Novel (Norton, 1999, paperback).
Comment: I admire Fox and think her books are underrated, but Franzen’s hype tests the patience even of a champion of her Borrowed Finery and The Coldest Winter. Click here to read other Gusher-Award winners.
Freedom has made the shortlist for the annual Bad Sex in fiction award, always one of year’s most entertaining literary prizes. The Guardian has more on the dubious honor for Jonathan Franzen’s novel, which landed its author on the cover of Time but not on the dais at last night’s National Book Awards ceremony. Given by the U.K.-based Literary Review, the Bad Sex award went last year to Jonathan Littell, who defeated Philip Roth, Paul Theroux and others.
Anna Karenina is probably the most popular 19th-century Russian novel in the U.S. today and certainly the only one tapped for both Oprah’s book club and a forthcoming steampunk-influenced mashup. But there is no obvious reason why it should have more appeal than others by Leo Tolstoy and his compatriots. Anna Karenina lacks the scale of War and Peace. It tells a tragic story when many readers crave happy endings, and it reminds us that love doesn’t conquer all, a theme that clashes with a cultural fantasy.
Why is Anna Karenina nonetheless so alluring? Elif Batuman suggests an answer in her quirky and amusing essay collection, The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 286 pp., $15, paperback). Batuman writes of finding a 1970s edition of the novel during a summer visit to her grandmother’s apartment in Turkey:
“Nobody in Anna Karenina was oppressed, as I was, by the tyranny of leisure. The leisure activities in Tolstoy’s novel – ice skating, balls, horse races – were beautiful, dignified, and meaningful in terms of plot …
“Anna Karenina was a perfect book, with an otherwordly perfection: unthinkable, monolithic, occupying a super-charged gray zone between nature and culture. How had any human being ever managed to write something simultaneously so big and so small – so serious and so light – so strange and so natural? The heroine didn’t turn up until chapter 18, and the book went on for 19 more chapters after her death, and Anna’s lover and her husband had the same name (Alexei). Anna’s maid and daughter were both called Anna, and Anna’s son and Levin’s half brother were both called Sergei. The repetition of names struck me as remarkable, surprising, and true to life.”
More than 70 years ago, John Steinbeck’s best-known novel served up a blistering indictment of the brutal conditions faced by migrant workers in California. Does The Grapes of Wrath have anything to say in the age of the AIG bailout and collateralized debt obligations? A review of the novel will appear on One-Minute Book Reviews this week.
From Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Pygmy (Doubleday):
“Succulent barrier much thrusting mammary glands shield operative me, swinging lady buttocks further thwart attacks.”
“Tongue of operative me lick, licking, touching back tooth on bottom, molar where planted inside forms cyanide hollow, touching not biting.”
“In greater afraid … within thinking machine operative me, this agent ponder if entire being operative me pitted for destroy American, annihilate homosexual, crackpot Methodist religion, Lutheran and Baptist cult, extinguish all decadent bourgeoisie – subsequent successful total such destruction: Render this agent obsolete? Of no worth?”
Yes, all 241 pages of Pygmy are this dorky. The novel reads as though Palahniuk had cut up a dictionary, put the pieces in a food processor, and pushed, “Spin.”
Read the full review of Pygmy.
You can also read about the Delete Key Awards on Janice Harayda’s page on Twitter. The 10 Delete Key Awards are being named in random order, beginning with No. 10, but numbered for convenience. This is finalist No. 1. The winner and runners-up will be announced March 15 on One-Minute Book Reviews and on Twitter.
© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
From David Baldacci’s The Whole Truth (Hachette/Vision):
“To say that this hit the earth like a molten-lava tsunami would have been the grossest of understatements.”
A “molten-lava tsunami”? Is FEMA prepared for one of those?
Read the full review of The Whole Truth.
The Delete Key Awards finalists are being announced in random order, beginning with No. 10, but numbered for convenience. This is finalist No. 4. You can also read about the Delete Key Awards on Twitter at @janiceharayda.com. The winner and runners-up will be announced on One-Minute Book Reviews and Twitter on March 15.
From Janet Evanovich’s novel Finger Lickin’ Fifteen (St. Martin’s):
“ ‘Nobody calls me pecker head and lives,’ Pecker said.”
Evanovich’s popular series about the bounty-hunter Stephanie Plum goes further south in Finger Lickin’ Fifteen, which abounds with jokes about body parts or functions described as “number two,” “cooter,” “pecker,” “wanger” or “winkie.” Another example appears below.
“‘Yep,’ Grandma said. ‘He’s got a big one. All them Turleys is hung like horses. … I tell you, for a little guy, he had a real good-sized wanger’.”
Read the full review of Finger Lickin’ Fifteen.
The Delete Key Awards finalists are being announced in random order, beginning with No. 10, but numbered for convenience. This is finalist No. 5. You can also read about the awards on Janice Harayda’s page (@janiceharayda) on Twitter. The winner and runners-up will be announced on March 15 on One-Minute Book Reviews and Twitter.
© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.