The Times They Are A Changin’

Bob Dylan playing at the recent Azkena rock festival in Barcelona,Spain in 2010
Bob Dylan playing at the recent Azkena rock festival in Barcelona,Spain in 2010

The Award

A couple of weeks ago (October 13th, 2016), the Nobel Prize Committee in Sweden awarded Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature. This particular award has raised some eyebrows, since even though Dylan has penned one autobiographical book, Chronicles (2004), and one book of poetry (1966), called Tarantula, he is not really considered a literary writer. There is even a sequel to Chronicles in the works, but no one, not even Mr. Dylan knows when the manuscript will actually be released to the general public.

Here, is what Mr. Dylan will receive at the awards ceremony. (if he shows up)
Here, is what Mr. Dylan will receive at the awards ceremony. (if he shows up)

Bob Dylan, the Songwriter

What Bob Dylan did do, was to create a body of music and lyrics that has rocked the music industry since the early 60s. Undoubtedly, it is this accomplishment that has earned him the prestigious award and the large sum of money ($900,000) that comes with the little piece of gold. Starting out as a protest folk singer, the Minnesota native has continued to produce new and intriguing music right up to the present day. Some of his lyrical masterpieces that may have helped him earn the award, could include such timeless hits, as Maggies Farm, Desolation Row, Positively 4th Street, Like a Rolling Stone and My Back Pages. Of course any list like this, is highly subjective, as is the award itself.

P.S. His last two releases, Shadows In the Night (2015) and Fallen Angels (2016) consist almost entirely of Frank Sinatra covers.

A Proverbial Can of Words

My first reaction to the announcement that Dylan had been nominated for the award, was one of surprise, for this seemed to be a major change in direction for the Nobel Committee. True, it has been over a hundred years since the first awards were passed out by the Swedish and Norwegian (Peace Prize only) delegates, but still this choice has the airs of travelling down a new road that will forever change the nature of the highly-regarded, Literature Prize.

The new direction seems unfair and perhaps disrespectful to all the writers across the planet who work daily in creating words that communicate to readers instead of those who prefer to get their words of inspiration from the international music industry. All in all, this is not a good development that may lead to problems in the not-so-distant future. Perhaps, creating a special award for songwriters would be a better alternative.

Rigid Guidelines

Over the past two weeks since the award was announced, I have undergone a gradual transformation in my thinking. For one, I have always admired Bob Dylan for creating an oustanding musical and lyrical body of work. There is absolutely, nothing superficial about what the man is done.

What is important in considering the importance of this choice, is the way the Nobel awards are set up. Created in 1900 by the Swedish scientist and inventor, Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Foundation only gives out medals in the endeavors of literature, chemistry, physics, peace and medicine, which is sometimes referred to as physiology. Nothing less, nothing more. And since all this is willed by the late Mr. Nobel, there is no way to change the categories, except by expanding the intellectual ground that each award covers.

So this is why I am more excepting of the commitee’s choice and I do look forward to see who in the near future will receive the literature award.

Public Announcement

Yesterday, October 28, 2016, Bob Dylan finally responded to the Nobel Committee, which for the last two weeks, had been trying to contact the reclusive American songwriter. In a statement sent to the Nobel Committee, he said he would accept the prize and also attend the awards ceremony in December, if he could. This closes a two-week period, when no one knew whether or not Mr. Dylan would accept the award or attend the award ceremony.

This modest house in Hibbing, MN is where Bob spent his younger days
This modest house in Hibbing, MN is where Bob spent his younger days

Advice from Writers

Planetary Nebula NGC 2818 from Hubble  Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)
Planetary Nebula NGC 2818 from Hubble
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)

1. “There are two kinds of people who sit around all day thinking about killing people….mystery writers and serial killers. I’m the kind that pays better.” Richard Castle

2. “The best time for planning a book is while yo’re doing the dishes,” by Agatha Christie

3. “I think film had a terrible effect on horror fiction particularly in the 80s, with certain writers turning out stuff as slick and cliched as Hollywood movies.” Poppy Z. Brite

4. “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” Groucho Marx

5. “I prefer dead writers because you don’t run into them at parties.” Fran Lebowitz

6. “It’s a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.” by Andrew Jackson

7. “A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor.” by Ring Lardner

8. “A good novel tells us the truth about it’s hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.” by Gilbert K. Chesterton

9. “Television has raised writing to a new low.” by Samuel Goldwyn

10. “Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman’s name out of a satire then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to a writer–and if so, why?” by Bennett Cerf

11. “If it has horses and swords in it, it’s a fantasy, unless it also has a rocketship in it, in which case it becomes science fiction. The only thing that’ll turn a story with a rocketship in it back into fantasy is the Holy Grail.” by Debra Doyle

Canadian Short Story Writer Wins Nobel Prize for Literature

IDL TIFF file
Sombero Galaxy in Infrared Light, hubble space photo from http://www.ispace.com

The News Story

Today, October 10, 2013 it was announced that Alice Munro has received the Nobel Prize for Literature. For those of you who are not familiar with the writer, she is a Canadian woman, especially known for her collections of short stories. Alice was born in southwestern Ontario and still resides in the country, thus making her the first Canadian writer to receive the prestigious reward. Her short story collections are readily available in any bookstore, so acquiring some of her works is not very difficult.

AliceMunro
Recent photo of Alice Munro

What This Means for the Short Story Revival

First of all, let me clearly state the Ms. Munro has been writing short stories, all throughout her literary career and to my knowledge has not written any novels. This in itself shows true dedication to the craft, for until very recently the popularity of the short story was on the wane with a few brave souls predicting the ultimate demise of the genre. However, most recently, the short story seems to making a comeback. This recent phenomena seems linked to the rising success of ebooks, which now can be downloaded onto various and sundry electronic devices, such as cell phones and laptop computers.

Nonetheless, all this shoptalk on short stories seems mute, as the author has been writing short stories for many years and her success appears to be unrelated to current literary trends. Though it is plausible that the selection committee may have been slightly influenced by current book buying trends.

Appreciation Guide for Newbies

If you are a reader at all like me, you are well probably well aware of Alice Munro’s books, but for some reason never purchased or read one of her short stories. Fortunately, with the recent turn of events avid followers of her work have responded to her latest success by posting advice on which story to read first. Here is one such article posted over at Book Riot. Another such article can be found here.

Is The Great Gatsby the Quinessential “Great American Novel?

Gatsby_1925_jacket
The “Great American Novel”
Many writers have toyed with the idea of writing a great American novel.  Perhaps after a lifetime of  hard work, some bestselling writers may produce one work, which is the epidemy of what they trying to say during their lifetime of literary endeavors. For example, William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest and Anne Rice’s Interviews With A Vampire may be very popular works of fiction, but in all likelihood, these works are generally not classified as A Great American Novel.  Usually, The Great American Novel is a laudable phrase applied to a piece of literature that presents the most accurate and representative portrait of American life during a specific period of time. Many contemporary literary critics look at Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and see in this very short novel, a marvelous recreation of life during the “Roaring Twenties.
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The Great Gatsby
During his literary career, F. Scott Fitzgerald authored five novels, ten short story collections and also coined the term, “The Jazz Age”. Undoubtedly his most highly-regarded novel today is The Great Gatsby. This melancholy story from the “Roaring Twenties” was first published in 1925 to moderate commercial success and mediocre literary acclaim. Set in 1922 within the fictional Long Island town of West Egg, this story revolves around a young self-made millionaire, named Jay Gatsby. Next to Gatsby’s sprawling estate, lives the narrator, Nick Carraway. Nick works in nearby New York City selling stocks and bonds, but often attends Gatsby’s lavish alcohol-laden parties, which are the hit of the town during that peculiar period of American history known as “Prohibition”.
But unfortunately, Jay Gatsby’s new found wealth does not bring him happiness. Not surprisingly, Gatsby’s unhappiness derives from a young woman, who he once romanced at the beginning of WWI. Her name is Daisy and at the time Gatsby was madly in love with her and vica versa. But the war is over and Daisy is married to another man. She is also related to the narrator.
TheGreatGatsby2012Poster
 
On Screen
All total The Great Gatsby has the makings of a great “Roaring Twenties” story. The book has fast women, faster cars, bathtub gin, nouveau riche, lavish parties, flappers and a love triangle. All told, this classic story has been made into film five times with a sixth production scheduled for release in early May (2013). However, before you rush out to see the 120 million dollar movie that stars Leornordo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire, you you might want to read this classic American tale. It’s very short (less than 200 pages) and features the use of long, beautifully-crafted, lyrical sentences that still succeed to entertain and amaze the reader. Perhaps it can be said, that Fitzgerald’s masterpiece is the last example of the flowery, descriptive writing that was so prevalent before Hemingway forever changed the playing field with his skilled use of dynamic dialogue and terse prose.

Turmoil In The Land of the Pharaohs

 

Pyramids at Giza, photo by Ricardo Liberato from Wikipedia
Pyramids at Giza, photo by Ricardo Liberato from Wikipedia

With all the strife that is currently unfolding in Egypt, I thought I would take a quick look around the internet and see what I could learn about this fascinating country. I was especially interested in what kind of literary writing I might find on the subject. The results were quite revealing; for it seems that many fiction writers, when dealing with this large and populous North African nation are very much influenced by colorful history that goes back to the ancient population that flourished here long before the birth of Christ.

Many writers have chosen to set a story along the Nile, as did Agatha Christie, when she penned Death On the Nile, a mystery that was first published in 1934. This is one of her classics that features Hercule Poirot, as the main character, and is usually included with  “Murder On the Orient Express” and “Murder in Mesopotamia” as part of a mystery trilogy.

From here the list takes an interesting  journey into the past, including such titles as Memoirs of Cleopatra (by Margaret George), Nerfititi (by Michelle Moran), Palace of Desire (by Naguib Mahfouz), Crocodiles on the Sandbank (by Elizabeth Peters), Egyptian Art (by Cyril Aldred) and River God (by Wilbur Smith). All of these stories focus on either the near or distant past. Mahfouz is the one native son of the group. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988 and died in 2006. Overall, he is one of the most recognized of Arabic writers. Incidentally, his trilogy is set in the early twentieth century and not during the time of the pharaohs.

For a look at a more modern setting in contemporary, readers might want to take a look at The Yacoubian Building, a novel by Alaa Al Aswany, a modern Egyptian writer. The title for this book was found at a Lonely Planet forum site that was posted several years ago. Aswany, who also writes in Arabic, has been described as a social realist.

It should be noted that these titles come from a short period of web surfing. I have not read any of these titles, but the titles did catch my eye and I actually came away from the searching process with a tiny bit more of knowledge than before. Whether any of these titles will shed any light on the major story in the day is a mystery to me.

Sherman Alexie Wins Pen/Faulkner Award

Sherman Alexie, photo coutesy of Wikipedia Commons

“I think white folks should be ashamed that it’s taken an Indian to save part of their culture.” Sherman Alexie, while appearing on the Steve Colbert show.

Today it was announced that Sherman Alexie has won the prestigious Pen/Faulkner Award for fiction, which comes complete with a $15,000 financial attachment. His most recent literary effort called “War Dances”, a collection of short stories, essays and poems is the chief reason for the presentation. The Pen/Faulkner award is the largest peer chosen prize offered in the United States and Mr. Alexie is the first Native American recipient of the award.

Sherman is the author of many novels, short stories and poems. In fact, his last book, which was entitled The Absolute True Autobiography of a Part-time Indian received a national book award for Young Adult fiction. This novel is the straightforward, first-person account of a young teenager, who decides to leave the reservation to attend high school in a nearby farming community in eastern Washington. The book is unique in the large number of drawings and illustrations that accompany text, yet overall effort falls way short of being classified as a graphic novel.

Sherman Alexie is not a newcomer to the book world, for he has been trailblazing around the U.S. for at least the last decade promoting his books and talking to audiences of all sizes at bookstores in all parts of the country. In a recent appearance on the Steve Colbert show (see the video) Sherman talks in detail about his experiences on the road and the current struggle of the printed page to keep its audience. He describes his book tours, “I was a storyteller around a fire…. it was a metaphorical fire inside a bookstore.”

Then Alexie goes on to describe his last book tour, where he was promoting the same publication that earned him the Pen Award; “I went to a lot of afternoon matinees. The local media for books is gone.” Keep in mind that “War Dances” was published in 2009 and that this last book tour occurred within the last six months.

On a more positive  note, check out this Globe and Mail article, entitled “The Book Isn’t Dead Yet.”

Then again the Brits have always been bigger readers than the Anglos in the U.S. and Canada.

Winter In The Soul, A Cool Appraisal of Scandinavian Crime Fiction

Charles River
looking towards towards Cambridge, winter on the Charles River

“It is a world of bleak twilights and tortured souls. A world of cold dawns and dour sleuths. A world of frozen lakes and repressed detectives.”        Julia Keller of the Chicago Tribune.

So writes Julia Keller in a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, as she shares some thoughts  on the rise of the popular genre, most obvious by the rapid success of  Stieg Larsson’s trilogy and subsequent movie deals both in Europe and America.

There is an interesting blog located right here on wordpress that is solely devoted to the subject of Scandinavian Crime Fiction. This would include any writer from the nations of Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. There are as many as a dozen names, few of which would ring a bell with American readers or the American public. You can go to this blog and find out who is publishing what and where. Also you will find some interesting  comments and insights on why this part of the world has become the hotbed of the genre, because the perceived image of Scandinavia is that this is a place where a crime fiction writer would fine little inspiration because the murder rate s so low. But just like crossing a frozen lake on a cold winter’s day, there may be more trouble ahead than one realizes for there may be a current underneath the ice or a spring creating a thin spot; and if you fall through the ice in the middle of February in Northern Sweden you chances of survival are grim.

winter light
snow and shadows

But just as northern Minnesota was a great setting for a murder mystery in the film Fargo, so has Scandinavia merged to provide the setting for quite a few murder mysteries.  Although not really known as a crime fiction writer, Peter Hoeg may have set the scene for the emergence of this popular genre with his murder mystery Smyla’s Sense of Snow. He may have also opened the door to the reality the life in Scandinavia may be overrated a bit, for there are real conflicts between industrialization and the search for a comfortable life, a point that is very well underscored at least in the film.

So on these long January nights, while your curled up on the sofa next to the warm glow of a wood fire in the fireplace, you might want to pick on of the many offerings that are now being translated into English. But don’t forget that this part of the world has a summer time also and one with very long days and short nights; so short that in some places the sun only sets for a few hours each night during late June, when the summer solstice occurs.

As a subtle reminder of the summer warmth here is a picture of a fence that borders a park in Copenhagen, Denmark. The fence has been painting with all kinds of colorful and joyous animals. Of particular note is that the park is located just across the street from Christiana, an unique part of the city that was taken over and homesteaded by hippies in the 1970’s.

So long forom the snow-covered rocky coat of Maine,

Truly,

Everett Autumn

forest graffitti
animal graffitti in Copenhagen, Denmark