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News, Notes, Talk

Sally Rooney is the only novelist on TIME’s list of most influential people of the year.

Katie Yee

May 23, 2022, 4:49pm

Well, it’s that time of year again. Time for TIME to dub 100 musicians, actors, artists, activists, politicians as The Most Important. (Actually, to put it in their terms: Artists, Innovators, Titans, Leaders, Icons, Pioneers.) It appears there is —yet again—only one (1) novelist on this list.

And, yes, it’s Sally Rooney.

Of the writer’s work, Lena Dunham said:

Several times in a generation, there is a writer who speaks such basic truths—in such skillful prose—that they become a signpost for all our needs and concerns, all our unanswered questions and anxious dreams. When she published Conversations With Friends, Sally Rooney became that person, and her second novel, Normal People, cemented her role as the minimalist examiner of modern romance. She is the rare writer to have coveted merch (I am the proud owner of a Sally Rooney bucket hat), her books are touted as fashionable trophies, and her work has given rise to a cottage industry of lusty fantasy.

None of this surprises me. Thankfully, there are other writers who made the cut: Michelle Zauner, beloved musician turned memoirist (hello, Crying In H Mart!), and Elizabeth Alexander, celebrated poet and author of The Trayvon Generation. And, of course, there’s Sarah Jessica Parker, who has just worn the role of writer so well that it was worth a mention.

Still, consider this Lit Hub’s yearly plea: more novelists! Books matter!

Belarus has banned the sale of 1984.

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May 20, 2022, 10:23am

In very 1984 news, Belarus has banned the sale of 1984. Belarusian weekly newspaper, Nasha Niva, reported that security forces detained Andrei Yanushkevich, publisher and bookstore owner, and confiscated 200 books, with a  focus on 1984.

Nasha Niva also reported that they had obtained a copy of the government order to halt sales of Orwell’s book (which was banned in the Soviet Union until 1988). Though the paper said it would not publish the order due to security concerns, the story quoted it as saying “Withdraw from sale all versions of the book Orwell […] 1984. The implementation will be reported no later than May 19.”

RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty previously reported on Yanushkevich’s detention, writing that on May 16, “well-known pro-government propagandist journalists Ryhor Azaronak and Lyudmila Hladkaya […] started berating the bookstore staff for selling books in Belarusian that they said were inappropriate,” after which police came to search the store and detain Yanushkevich and his associate, Nasta Karnatskaya.

The article also noted that the crackdown on independent publishing houses in Belarus has been ramping up since since the 2020-2021 protests against the presidential election. Since then, “Belarusian authorities have suspended the activities of several independent publishing houses—Limaryus, Knihazbor, Haliyafy, and Medysont—for the ‘violation of regulations on registration at the Information Ministry.'”

[h/t inews]

A 17th-century book about the existence of aliens has been found in England.

Jonny Diamond

May 20, 2022, 9:44am

Phew. Thanks to the intrepid work of books valuer Jim Spencer (at an antiques show in the surely-it-must-be-charming Moreton-in-Marsh), we’ll finally have a chance to sit back at the beach and read Christiaan Huygens’ The Celestial World Discover’d: Or, Conjectures Concerning the Inhabitants, Plants and Productions of the Worlds in the Planets.

That’s right, it’s an alien book published in 1698, way before The X-Files. According to this BBC report, among other things in The Celestial World Discover’d, Huygens’ speculates on the physiognomy of extraterrestrial beings, and concludes that

aliens must have hands and feet like humans because of their “convenience,” writing: “What could we invent or imagine that could be so exactly accommodated to all the design’d uses as the Hands are? Shall we give them an Elephant’s Proboscis.”

And that “‘celestial beings’ must have feet ‘[unless] they have found out the art of flying in some of those Worlds.’” Not to mention that Huygens believed

aliens enjoyed astronomy and observation, sailed boats and listened to music but also suffered misfortunes, wars, afflictions and poverty “because that’s what leads us to invention and progress.”

Aliens! Who sail boats and listen to tunes! They’re just like us.

*

FYI: The book is listed for sale on July 5 in Hansons Library Auction at Bishton Hall in Staffordshire.

Subscribe to this banned books club—and help provide families with free books!

Katie Yee

May 18, 2022, 12:47pm

You probably don’t need to be reminded that book-banning is alive and well in America. But take heart: there are some incredible people doing what they can to combat it.

Skylark Bookshop in Columbia, Missouri, has launched a banned books subscription service, cleverly called Getting the Banned Back Together. In their official announcement, they said:

Although book challenges and bannings have occurred throughout history, 2021 marked an unprecedented year in sheer numbers. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials, resulting in 1,597 individual book challenges or removals. These figures, however, represent only a tiny fraction of book challenges.  Surveys report that a sobering 82-97% of book challenges aren’t ever officially reported.

Throughout the year, Skylark Bookshop is going to send out a mix of old and new challenged/banned books (god knows we have many to choose from) along with a paragraph contextualizing its history. First up: Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer!

A 6-month subscription is $150, and a 12-month is $275—and 10% of the proceeds will be donated to EyeSeeMe’s banned books program, which provides books to families and students for free.

[h/t Columbia Daily Tribune]

Remembering the short-lived Starbucks lit mag that published Lydia Davis and James Salter.

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May 18, 2022, 11:57am

Recently, while editing Nicole Miller’s excellent essay on Joy Williams’ cosmic waiting rooms, I learned a bit of trivia: in 1999, Starbuck’s launched a quarterly literary magazine called Joe. Though the fact of the magazine’s existence (and roster of writers) was enough to delight me, its contemporary relevance was also of interest, as the story of Joe sounds similar to the more recent Netflix Tudum saga (though to be fair to Joe, it lasted slightly longer).

The magazine—which bore the truly uninteresting tagline “Life is interesting. Discuss.”—featured work from literary heavies including Williams (an essay that “ponders what the Unabomber’s cabin thinks about while its maker is in prison”) as well as James Salter (?!), Chang-rae Lee, Lydia Davis, Douglas Coupland (an illustrated diagram of an office cubical titled “Welcome to the Electronic Coffin”), Andrew Solomon, and Mark Leyner. It published short fiction, cultural commentary, and ads for 90s treasures like Nokia phones and Starbucks compilation CDs.

Of course, this was all happening when Starbucks, like Barnes & Noble, was one of the ultimate symbols of the evil corporate behemoth crushing small businesses (which seems almost quaint now), so the idea that the company would try to up its cultural cred with a literary magazine rubbed plenty of people the wrong way.

In a 1999 article in Wired about the backlash, writer and editor Bart Schneider describes Joe as “middlebrow. It’s not going to tax you too much. This is just product delivery. It doesn’t have any editorial center or heart.” But the article also includes quotes from Coupland and Leyner which sound eerily contemporary:

“There’s people that like to bitch all the time about the decline of culture, but it’s so tedious,” Leyner said. “The idea that there are any publications that are somehow completely pure and devoid of any contentiousness is naive. The people who are getting sanctimonious probably have too much time on their hands.”

“People love trashing new mags,” said Coupland. “It’s like some kind of law. But I don’t think [Joe] merits a beating. It’s also running fiction which most magazine editors out there [in New York] consider the kiss of death. So, good for them.”

Of course, the most contemporary thing about Joe is that Starbucks pulled the plug on it after three issues.

[h/t Starbucks Melody]