By Deb A.
Happy 2018, dear Readers! It's time once again for a look at some of the best-loved books of the year, via a marginally scientific examination of the top picks from a range of book review columns, including those from the New York Times, the BBC, the Washington Post, The Guardian, the New Yorker, the CBC and more.
There was little consensus across the board, but two novels appeared on nearly every list: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and Sing, Unburied, Sing (winner of the National Book Award) by Jesmin Ward.
Other popular selections were Mohsin Hamed's Exit West, Min Jin Lee's Pachinko, Patricia Lockwood's Priestdaddy, Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, and Hari Kunzru's White Tears.
What were your favourite books of 2017? Leave your recommendations in the comments section.
By Deb A.
A book of poetry written by Leonard Cohen just before his death will be published next year. (Billboard)
We've talked about the Fearless Girl statue at length, and we wish we could be shocked that the firm behind it has a history of underpaying women and people of colour. (NPR)
Thirty publishers rejected Matt Cain's book on the grounds that it was too gay, but the general public disagrees: it's well on its way to getting published through crowdfunding instead. (The Bookseller)
505 new books were released during the UK's "Super Thursday". Which will you read first? (BBC)
Prize round-up: Kazuo Ishiguro won this year's Nobel Prize for literature. And the five finalists for Canada's Giller Prize have been announced. (Nobel Prize, Giller Prize)
The Guardian asked the art world about the biggest question currently facing artists. In one way or another, money comes up a lot. (The Guardian)
A school librarian rejected the First Lady's donation of ten Dr. Seuss books. (The Washington Post)
The Yayoi Kusama museum in Tokyo is open for business! (Yayoi Kusama Museum)
By Deb A.
By now you've heard that Agave Press will be launching its children's magazine, Prickly Pear Kids, in winter. That isn't the only exciting development in children's literature recently...
If you want your child to learn a lesson, those bunnies and bears just won't do. Researchers at the University of Toronto have discovered that only stories that feature human beings can increase children's altruism.
Speaking of bears, A.A. Milne was desperate to escape his own creation, Winnie-the-Pooh.
This year's Klaus Flugge Prize for the most exciting and promising newcomer to children's picture book illustration has been awarded to Francesca Sanna for her book, The Journey, which tells the story of a mother and her two children fleeing war at home to find a new life in a foreign country.
You've read Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and you've probably seen at least one of the films, but what you never realised was that Charlie Bucket was originally black.
There are boy heroes, there are (significantly fewer) girl heroines. But chances are they aren't playing together. Amelia Hill takes a fascinating look at gender equality in children's books, and even offers a few titles for starting your non-sexist kids' library.
By Deb A.
2018 will mark a century since women first got the right to vote in the UK.
Two years ago, author Kamila Shamsie suggested a unique celebration for the literary world: publishing new titles written by female authors only.
The idea came after 2014's Year of Reading Women, which emerged in part as a response to a study that revealed a drastic imbalance between male and female writers, as well as male and female reviewers. Just around a quarter of books reviewed in titles such as The London Review of Books and the New Yorker were written by women, and approximately a quarter of all reviewers were women themselves.
"The question isn't, 'Is there a problem?' It's: 'Are we recognising how deep it runs and do we know what to do about it?'" Ms. Shamsie wrote the following year. She proposed that a 'Year of Publishing Women' would kickstart gender parity throughout the literary world, resulting in more equality "in review pages and blogs, in bookshop windows and front-of-store displays, in literature festival line-ups and in prize submissions."
Independent UK publishing house And Other Stories quickly took the call to heart and committed to publishing only books by female writers in 2018, but since then, there have been no further takers. Overall, response was lukewarm at best, with several agents and writers agreeing with the importance of highlighting the systematic exclusion of female voices in the industry, but balking at excluding men altogether.
"Depriving the reading public of any book on the basis of gender, race or creed is surely antithetical to everything that culture stands for?" mused Jonny Geller, Joint C.E.O. of Curtis Brown, while Andrew Franklin, Managing Director of Profile Books, told The Bookseller that "it will never happen in full but it serves as a reminder that we should do better."
The industry should indeed do better. But so far, it seems that reminders are not enough.
How do you think female authors should be promoted in what is currently a male-driven industry? Tell us below.
By Deb A.
Michael Onofrey's short story, Chardonnay, appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of Agave Magazine. This year he published his first novel, Bewilderment, a tale of a man returning home to Los Angeles after three decades abroad to care for his dying mother and come to terms with his memories. We took the opportunity to catch up with Michael and find out more about bringing Bewilderment to life.
AGAVE: You’ve written and published over 70 short stories, but this is your first novel. What was the most difficult aspect of moving from short fiction to a longer format, and what prompted you to make the leap?
MICHAEL ONOFREY: Actually, this is my first “published” novel. I wrote two others before Bewilderment, but they, thus far, haven’t been accepted for publication. But, regarding your question, the most difficult aspect in moving from short to long fiction is the investment of time. Bewilderment came off rather quickly, but the first novel I attempted didn’t. I thought it was done and I sent it out. But I understand now that it’s not done, and I want to return to it. Returning to that book represents a chunk of time. Returning to a short story doesn’t represent so much time.
I made the leap to that first novel because an agent had read a story of mine and sent me an email, asking if I had a novel going. A few weeks later a second agent sent me an email asking the same question. That agent, though, had read a different story. So I figured I should start writing a novel. But of course, like most fiction writers, a novel was something I wanted to try at some time. As a footnote, both those agencies turned down the novel (50 pages) that I sent them, which was the first novel I wrote.
One other thing: With short stories you have to keep thinking up new ideas, one after the other, as you move from one story to the next, which can be exhausting after a while. With a novel, once you got the idea you can start chewing on it without having to think up a new idea. In that sense a novel is kind of a relief. It’s not a bad policy to go back and forth between long and short fiction because it breaks up the monotony of one format going on and on and on.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing Bewilderment?
There were two big challenges. In the order that I dealt with them, the first was the handling of tense: past and present tense. Chapter 1 is present tense. Chapter 2 begins with past tense, but then switches to present tense at the story break on page 18. Chapter 3, a short chapter, is all past tense. So why did I go back and forth? The first reason was that it felt right, which is to say that it felt fresh. I thought it worked well, or at least worked well for me. In the first draft, I tried different approaches. I tried, for example, sticking with one tense throughout, present and then past, but in both cases the narration started to drag. Then I tried putting the Los Angeles scenes in present and India/Pakistan in past, but that was too pat, too formalistic, too mathematical. So I went with what felt right, which might appear random, but of course I went over this any number of times, so how could it have been random? At the same time, I liked the suggestion of random because it somehow served to enliven the narration in an organic way. And then, which leads to the second challenge, I thought that the play of tense would help bring memories into the present, kind of like how we have memories bubbling in our minds while we operate in the present.
The second challenge was how to suggest past and present coming close to one another, and in this regard the novel begins with the past (India) and the present (Los Angeles) far apart, but as the novel progresses the past and the present shift back and forth more rapidly, and so the distance between them narrows.
Many of the characters in Bewilderment deal with profound bouts of loneliness. Who do you feel deals best with the situation?
Evelyn. Evelyn is the most grounded, and in the end she is the one who moves beyond loneliness. Ironically, she is the one who has lost the most because she is the one who had the most. In addition, she worked for what she had, and then lost it.
What books did you learn from, and what lessons did you keep in mind while writing Bewilderment?
Like everyone else who writes (or wrote), I learned from a lot of books. But to name a few that I think were (and are) extremely pertinent, I’d single out How Fiction Works by James Wood and Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. Along the lines of fictional work, there were (are) Madame Bovary (Lydia Davis translation) and A Sentimental Education (Douglas Parmée translation) by Gustave Flaubert. And the thing that kicked this whole deal off with regards to Bewilderment there was In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (Penguin Classica Deluxe Edition, separate translators for each book, Lydia Davis doing Swann’s Way). Proust got me thinking about writing a novel that involved memory and memories. Another way of looking at it: Flaubert for realism, Proust for modernism.
Lessons I kept in mind? James Wood: narration, particularly free indirect style (moving between character’s eyes [or characters’ eyes] and author’s eyes, but I’m tempted to say narrator’s eyes and character’s eyes [characters’ eyes]), and then the arbitrary quality of memory which can yield the unexpected. Francine Prose: every rule regarding fiction has been broken at one time or another in a great work of fiction. But this doesn’t mean a free-for-all. It means doing what’s appropriate, which might mean breaking accepted rules. Flaubert: author ought to be careful in keeping his or her opinions out of the story. Proust: fiction is wide open; Proust wasn’t even sure if what he was writing was a novel.
Do you plan to write another novel?
I hope to.
Michael Onofrey's Bewilderment was published by Tailwinds Press. It is available in paperback and as an e-book.
By Deb A.
It's time once again to find out what the Agave staff will be reading behind sunglasses in this, our third annual Summer Reads blog.
Ariana, Founder and Editor-in-Chief
Like many, I am so excited about The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy, her first novel in 20 years. She is an absolute favourite of mine, and I am hoping to look past the lukewarm reviews of her latest efforts and devour every page.
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami: My favourite living author, hands down. So this newest book of short stories made the list, easily.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman: A chance to lose one's imagination in fantasy and mystical tales of far away lands - sounds perfect.
Linda, Contributing Editor: Literature
The only thing on my list is American Gods by Neil Gaiman. With our new baby reading time is sparse but this is a must-read for me!
I'm reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, In The Fall by Jeffrey Lent, The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, and Wonder by R.J. Palacio (with the kids).
Deb, Blog Manager
This summer I'll be savouring my most recent surprise from my Year of Books subscription from Heywood Hill: Freya by Anthony Quinn. Every book I've received so far has been fascinating, so I'm eager to see how this one measures up. I'm also catching up on old editions of the now-defunct Lucky Peach magazine and whispering Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo and The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton to my children at bedtime.
Grant, Business Manager
We were recent winners of an online contest for Book of the Month Club. Each month you get a book of your choice sent to your home, and there are 100 books or so from which to choose. I'm looking forward to the joy of finding new books waiting for me in my mailbox.
Emily, Editor-at-Large : Art & Photography
Earlier this summer, Emily came across Felicia Day’s memoir, You’re Never Weird On The Internet (almost), and has related to almost nothing in it, but still finds it funny. She just bought Nicotine, by Nell Zink, because of the cover illustration, and hopes to start it soon. She also may start reading her son’s The Secret Series, by Pseudonymous Bosch because, again, the cover art is compelling.
By Deb A.
If you're in need of some inspiration to begin your week, look no further:
Art is good for us: On Wednesday the British Parliament will announce the results of its two-year inquiry into arts, health and wellbeing. In anticipation of the report, Nicci Gerrard offers an eloquent account of the role of arts in helping people with dementia. (The Guardian)
Beware the selfie: A single snapshot was to blame for the domino effect that knocked over a row of plinths holding $200,000 worth of art. Too perfectly awkward to be true? (The New York Times)
Sketching the unknown: How artists and researchers teamed up to find and introduce new species to the rest of the world. (The Atlantic)
Illustrator, cartoonist, trailblazer: Canadian artist Jillian Tamaki's new book of graphic short stories marks her emergence as a "consummate storyteller". (The Walrus)
Visual activist: Photographer Zanele Muholi highlights racism, homophobia, and hate with Somnyama Ngopnyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, a series of self-portraits she took every day for a year. The Guardian dedicates two spaces to her work, and rightly so: a striking photo gallery and a compelling article.
When is a Modigliani not a Modigliani? Twenty-one artworks have been confiscated from a major exhibition in Genoa after several were confirmed as fakes. (The Telegraph)
The Commuter Pig Keeper? You still have time to vote for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. (The Bookseller)
Agave alumna: Agave Magazine contributor Karla K. Morton's twelfth book, Wooden Lions, is now available.
By Deb A.
After Senator Kamala Harris was accused of being hysterical for the (professional) way she questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the world-renowned Strand Book Store posted a list of "strong feminist voices you need to listen to" under the title We Are Not Hysterical.
If you'd like feminist books like those delivered to your door every month you might want to keep an eye on the Card Carrying Books and Gifts Indiegogo page.
Enormous portraits of inspiring black women now grace the streets of London thanks to artist Neequaye Dreph Dsane and his You Are Enough series.
New York City will also look a little more interesting as of June 26th, when works by female artists will take the place of ad space on Lower East Side billboards thanks to SaveArtSpace.
Meanwhile, Emma Watson is up to her usual tricks: hiding feminist books around a major city. After leaving copies of Maya Angelou's Mom & Me & Mom around London and New York, she's now stashing The Handmaid's Tale in Parisian nooks and crannies.
Joanna Moorhead of The Guardian rightly asks: Why isn't Anna Atkins famous?
Shikha Sharma spotlights feminist Indian authors we should get to know for Youth Ki Awaaz.
Grace Meets Matisse: Coming to a NYC billboard soon. (via Elise R. Peterson)
By Deb A.
Happy Ramadan to all our Muslim readers! And thanks to TED-Ed for this hypnotic look into the intricacies of Islamic design:
Arundhati Roy is back with new fiction, 20 years after her breathtaking first novel, The God of Small Things. The Guardian's recent interview with the author gives us a glimpse into her mind--and the minds of her latest characters. You can read an extract of Ms. Roy's latest novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, at The Guardian too.
The world is $933,000 away from Neil Gaiman doing a live reading of Dr. Seuss's Fox in Socks (or a mere $433,000 away from hearing him read the Cheesecake Factory menu). In case this is what's missing in your life, you can donate here. All proceeds will go to the UNHCR.
The BBC takes a look back at 70 years of classic portrait photography with a tribute to the Camera Press Agency.
His memoir was on many 'best books of 2016'' lists last year; this year Hisham Matar's The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between has also won the Folio Prize.
Kerry Clare takes a look at smallness in children's literature in The Walrus.
He "solved a problem that [others] did not. He found a way to represent for a global Anglophone audience the diction of his Igbo homeland": Kwame Anthony Appiah explains Chinua Achebe's particular genius in The New York Review of Books.
By Deb A.
Time for another round-up of bits and pieces that have caught our eye recently....
The BBC celebrated Magnum Photos's 70th anniversary with a retrospective on the legendary photo agency run by photographers.
The Institute of Arab and Islamic Art opened May 4 with Exhibition 1, a show featuring four female artists influenced by Islamic architecture and design. The institute, which is the only cultural institution representing Muslim and Arab artists in New York City, aims to encourage dialogue and confront stereotypes.
Messy Nessy takes us back to the original Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, where struggling writers who promise to read a book each day and work in the shop for two hours a day have been sleeping amongst the stacks since 1951.
A.R. Penck, a leader of the German Neo-Expressionist movement, died May 2, aged 77.
Just over 40% of us have embellished the truth about our reading habits, claims The Reading Agency. That statistic leaps to nearly 65% for people aged 18 to 24. Indeed, a quarter of that particular demographic purports to have read The Lord of the Rings when in fact, they've only seen the film.
...Good news for anyone who's been pretending to read Margaret Atwood or Neil Gaiman: The Handmaid's Tale and American Gods have both hit the small screen.
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