Archive for the ‘Andrew’ Category

Banned Books and Penguin India

Hindus-book-coverAt the behest of a nationalist group in India with a truly Orwellian name (Movement To Save Education), Penguin India has volunteered to have any remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s 2009 book The Hindus: An Alternative History withdrawn from warehouses and bookstores in that country and destroyed. This comes at the end of a four-year legal battle in which critics alleged that the 800-page tome by the University of Chicago scholar “hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus.”

While America exhibits progressive restraint when it comes to pulping books it deems offensive (books about religion and atheism abound on nonfiction bestseller lists), we also have a long and well-documented history with book censorship. (more…)

Book Review: A Field Guide To The North American Family

fieldguide_coverLyrically told and lavishly designed, Garth Risk Hallberg’s A Field Guide To The North American Family follows the story of two suburban families through a series of 63 illustrated chapters. This evocative novella presents its brief vignettes as a series of non-linear “field guide entries,” each complete with an abstract photo of whatever small-town indiscretion, teenage experimentation, patriarchal death, etc. is described on the opposite page. Through playful scenes of fumbled intimacy and gallows-humor descriptions of the human response to universal concepts like guilt, tenderness, youth, and others, a post-modern story of suburban ennui emerges. It’s an innovative web of images and isolated moments that practically begs to be reread upon completion.

Subtitled An Illustrated Fiction, Hallberg’s first book is chiefly concerned with the Hungates and the Harrisons, a pair of neighboring families of similar backgrounds living in Long Island, New York. When one of the fathers dies, it sets off a chain of responses leaving each family member adrift. It is a very short work that relies heavily on presentation and discovery, so substantive discussion of the characters and their arcs would be missing the point.

The “entries” tend to jump around in point-of-view and tone; the author, a reviewer and editor for online lit mag The Millions, has no trouble switching from deadpanning tongue-in-cheek nature observations of the North American Family in their native habitat (“Due to a growth curve similar to that of depression, a robust divorce population has become common wherever love dwells in large numbers.”) to heartbreaking descriptions of a fractured family in mourning.

The 63 selections are not sequenced beyond alphabetization of each chapter’s title (Adolescence, Adulthood, Angst, Boredom, etc.). This is important, as each section — only a few are over a page long — is supplemented with multiple sets of cross-references to lead you to other chapters. The order in which you read is your own. I’ve read the book through three times now: front-to-back, back-to-front, and through the clever cross-references provided. Though this system of linked keywords seems to be the way the author and publisher would like the book to be read, I found it to be more creative than helpful. It means the book can function as a choose-your-own-adventure, but only if you wish to lose yourself in the journey. In short, you’ll have to keep track of which chapters you’ve read so you don’t retrace your steps too many times.

As innovative and bruising as it was, it does not seem far off the mark to wish there had been more. Alas, anyone who enjoyed Hallberg’s voice and wants to see what the author is capable of over, say, 900 pages should be on the lookout for his next release. In November of last year, Hallberg signed a major deal (just south of $2 million) with Knopf for City On Fire, his doorstop of a debut set in New York City during the 1970’s. We will let you know when it is slated for release.

By Andrew Wetzel

Digital Collections – The Harry Ransom Center

Former US poet laureate Billy Collins has joined the ranks of such initialed luminaries as E.E. Cummings and T.S. Eliot with sale of his archives to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. “The collections assembled [at the Ransom Center] document the work of some of our finest writers and artists and provide unprecedented access to the creative process while also helping us understand the historical moment out of which this work emerged.” In addition to recent additions such as Collins’, the humanity research library and museum’s holdings also include notebooks, personal effects, paper scraps, and more by Williams Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Anne Sexton, and Dylan Thomas.

Whether a writer or a reader, it is always interesting to check out the unedited, raw feed of literary genius, whether it is typewritten pages (here, a page from Don DeLillo’s first draft for Underworld) or the handwritten notes and doodles of authors such as David Foster Wallace, whose Pale King drafts have been digitized for endless scrutiny. (Notice how he takes the time to write out by hand the front matter legalese at the beginning of one of his drafts.) Peep a hand-written letter that Edgar Allan Poe sent to a man named George Bush or check out Blood Book, a creepy scrapbook of Freemason imagery and writings from Evelyn Waugh’s personal library. It looks, frankly, super metal. M_WAU_GAR_003v_582px (more…)

Agent Interview – Andrew Wetzel

Masters Review editor Andrew Wetzel is no longer an agent, but he has some seriously valuable experience acting as one (he was also a literary a scout for years in the field). Writers, you could learn a thing or two about what new writing looks like through the lens of an agent. Take a look at our Q/A below:

What did you enjoy/not enjoy about being an agent?

I loved that I was free to pick whichever manuscript I liked. I was picking projects according to my tastes and wanted to champion the type of books (literary fiction, pop nonfiction) that I would pick up at the bookstore. That freedom didn’t always help, though. It was clear a few months in that handbooks on modern feminism weren’t going to make me a millionaire and that any memoir-ists I signed had better be celebrities if I wanted anyone to return my emails. I also did not enjoy trying to start or maintain relationships with editors who were thousands of miles away.

I did enjoy getting to talk with so many authors (scouts have almost zero direct interactions with authors), especially at conferences, where you’re treated like a visiting dignitary.

What do you think is the most common mistake new writers make when looking for an agent?

I found that a lot of writers felt an urgency to start looking for an agent as soon as they finished their book. So they write a slapdash query letter and send it before their book has gone through another draft or two.

Take your time. You usually only get one chance with an agency, so you should be very careful not to send anything you think can be improved. And if that query letter doesn’t jump off the screen, it is unlikely that an agent will request to see the manuscript itself. There’s no shame in shelving a book that agents aren’t responding to. It is important to see your manuscript and the time you put into it as a stepping-stone to becoming a better writer. (more…)

In the Year 2014…

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Like anyone, I start each New Year’s Day by using a book knife to hand-cut open each page of the newest volume of the Farmer’s Almanac. Like Lincoln before me, I set my calendar based around the weather forecasts for the next 364 days, adjusting where necessary. (I actually did this as a preteen, arranging on which day I should plan my October birthday party. No shame.)

In addition, I go through each piece of fiction set in the New Year to see what I can expect. Of those I could find in the first three minutes of research, only THE JAGGED ORBIT rings a bell. (more…)

Book Review – The Biology of Luck

18281738Jacob M. Appel’s THE BIOLOGY OF LUCK (Elephant Rock Books, 2013) is an inventive and thought-provoking new novel that transcends the simple boy-meets-girl plot. New York City tour guide Larry Bloom is by his own account neither handsome nor wealthy. (That’s if we can trust his word—more on that later.) Yet on the summer day in which this love story is set, he cannot deny his own luck. He is in possession of two items of life-changing potential: an unopened letter from a literary agency about his manuscript, and a confirmed date with his dream woman, an aimless 20-something Brooklynite named Starshine Hart.

Bloom has spent the last two years procuring this dinner and writing his Great American Novel for, and about, his dream woman. But he doesn’t yet know whether the agency would like to represent his novel—he plans to have his date open the letter. Bloom’s novel, which shares a title with Appel’s, is about Hart herself, and the warm June day on which she has planned a dinner date with a schlubby tour guide whom she will inexplicably fall in love with. She might not take this well. (more…)