Canadian writer Alice Munro has won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Munro, 82, has written over a dozen short story collections in her career. Most of her stories–composed in a mode of psychological realism reminiscent of 19th-century modernism—focus on the lives of people in a small rural pocket of Canada. Munro’s stories appear with an almost-alarming ubiquity, popping up every year in the big anthologies and the best magazines (Jonathan Franzen’s 2004 claim that “outside of Canada, where her books are No. 1 best sellers, she has never had a large readership” strikes me as odd).
For an appreciative and comprehensive look at her work, take a look at this guide at The Millions. For a contrarian take on Munro, read Christian Lorentzen’s essay in The LRB.
Or, better yet, make your own informed opinion by reading some of her stories:
“Boys and Girls”
“The Bear Came Over the Mountain”
“The Seven Vagabonds” — Nathaniel Hawthorne
Rambling on foot in the spring of my life and the summer of the year, I came one afternoon to a point which gave me the choice of three directions. Straight before me the main road extended its dusty length to Boston; on the left a branch went toward the sea, and would have lengthened my journey a trifle of twenty or thirty miles, while by the right-hand path I might have gone over hills and lakes to Canada, visiting in my way the celebrated town of Stamford. On a level spot of grass at the foot of the guide-post appeared an object which, though locomotive on a different principle, reminded me of Gulliver’s portable mansion among the Brobdignags. It was a huge covered wagon—or, more properly, a small house on wheels—with a door on one side and a window shaded by green blinds on the other. Two horses munching provender out of the baskets which muzzled them were fastened near the vehicle. A delectable sound of music proceeded from the interior, and I immediately conjectured that this was some itinerant show halting at the confluence of the roads to intercept such idle travellers as myself. A shower had long been climbing up the western sky, and now hung so blackly over my onward path that it was a point of wisdom to seek shelter here.
“Halloo! Who stands guard here? Is the doorkeeper asleep?” cried I, approaching a ladder of two or three steps which was let down from the wagon.
The music ceased at my summons, and there appeared at the door, not the sort of figure that I had mentally assigned to the wandering showman, but a most respectable old personage whom I was sorry to have addressed in so free a style. He wore a snuff-colored coat and small-clothes, with white top-boots, and exhibited the mild dignity of aspect and manner which may often be noticed in aged schoolmasters, and sometimes in deacons, selectmen or other potentates of that kind. A small piece of silver was my passport within his premises, where I found only one other person, hereafter to be described.
“This is a dull day for business,” said the old gentleman as he ushered me in; “but I merely tarry here to refresh the cattle, being bound for the camp-meeting at Stamford.” Continue reading
Cage III — Free Show. B.S. Latrodectus Mactans Productions/Infernatron Animation Concepts, Canada. Cosgrove Watt, P. A. Heaven, Everard Maynell, Pam Heath; partial animation; 35 mm.; 65 minutes; black and white; sound.
The figure of Death (Heath) presides over the front entrance of a carnival sideshow whose spectators watch performers undergo unspeakable degradations so grotesquely compelling that the spectators’ eyes become larger and larger until the spectators themselves are transformed into gigantic eyeballs in chairs, while on the other side of the sideshow tent the figure of Life (Heaven) uses a megaphone to invite fairgoers to an exhibition in which, if the fairgoers consent to undergo unspeakable degradations, they can witness ordinary persons gradually turn into gigantic eyeballs.
INTERLACE TELENT FEATURE CARTRIDGE #357-65-65
From David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest.
MONDAY — This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way. It is always hanging around and following me about. I don’t like this; I am not used to company. I wish it would stay with the other animals. . . . Cloudy today, wind in the east; think we shall have rain. . . . WE? Where did I get that word-the new creature uses it.
TUESDAY — Been examining the great waterfall. It is the finest thing on the estate, I think. The new creature calls it Niagara Falls-why, I am sure I do not know. Says it LOOKS like Niagara Falls. That is not a reason, it is mere waywardness and imbecility. I get no chance to name anything myself. The new creature names everything that comes along, before I can get in a protest. And always that same pretext is offered — it LOOKS like the thing. There is a dodo, for instance. Says the moment one looks at it one sees at a glance that it “looks like a dodo.” It will have to keep that name, no doubt. It wearies me to fret about it, and it does no good, anyway. Dodo! It looks no more like a dodo than I do.
WEDNESDAY — Built me a shelter against the rain, but could not have it to myself in peace. The new creature intruded. When I tried to put it out it shed water out of the holes it looks with, and wiped it away with the back of its paws, and made a noise such as some of the other animals make when they are in distress. I wish it would not talk; it is always talking. That sounds like a cheap fling at the poor creature, a slur; but I do not mean it so. I have never heard the human voice before, and any new and strange sound intruding itself here upon the solemn hush of these dreaming solitudes offends my ear and seems a false note. And this new sound is so close to me; it is right at my shoulder, right at my ear, first on one side and then on the other, and I am used only to sounds that are more or less distant from me.
FRIDAY — The naming goes recklessly on, in spite of anything I can do. I had a very good name for the estate, and it was musical and pretty — GARDEN OF EDEN. Privately, I continue to call it that, but not any longer publicly. The new creature says it is all woods and rocks and scenery, and therefore has no resemblance to a garden. Says it LOOKS like a park, and does not look like anything BUT a park. Consequently, without consulting me, it has been new-named NIAGARA FALLS PARK. This is sufficiently high-handed, it seems to me. And already there is a sign up:
KEEP OFF THE GRASS
My life is not as happy as it was. Continue reading
A description of Infinite Map from artist/creator William Beutler’s site, Infinite Boston:
A geographic infographic poster depicting the “territorially reconfigured North America” of the novel and identifying 250 of the most interesting locations with a color-coded dot and corresponding footnote. As you can see from the acromegalic thumbnail above, the 24”x36” print includes four telescoping map insets: O.N.A.N.’s North America, Northeast U.S. & Canada, Greater Boston and Metro Boston. The red shading represents my own painstaking, overdetermined conclusions about the most probable outline of the Great Concavity. In the upper right corner is the Great Seal of O.N.A.N., based on the description from page 153, and the map labels throughout include sometimes-obscure references to the novel’s the text. This image is the principal result of a long-term collaboration between myself and the Los Angeles-based creative design agency JESS3, whose technical ability and patience with yrstruly knows no bounds.
Biblioklept will run an interview with Beutler about his graphic work with David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest next week.
Peter Behren’s The O’Briens.
An unforgettable saga of love, loss, and exhilarating change spanning half a century in the lives of a restless family, from the author of the acclaimed novel The Law of Dreams.
The O’Briens is a family story unlike any told before, a tale that pours straight from the heart of a splendid, tragic, ambitious clan. In Joe O’Brien—grandson of a potato-famine emigrant, and a backwoods boy, railroad magnate, patriarch, brooding soul—Peter Behrens gives us a fiercely compelling man who exchanges isolation and poverty in the Canadian wilds for a share in the dazzling riches and consuming sorrows of the twentieth century.
When Joe meets Iseult Wilkins in Venice, California, the story of their courtship—told in Behrens’s gorgeous, honed style—becomes the first movement in a symphony of the generations. Husband and wife, brothers, sisters-in-law, children and grandchildren, the O’Briens engage unselfconsciously with their century, and we experience their times not as historical tableaux but as lives passionately lived. At the heart of this clan—at the heart of the novel—is mystery and madness grounded in the history of Irish sorrow. The O’Briens is the story of a man, a marriage, and a family, told with epic precision and wondrous imagination.
Big thanks to Biblioklept reader (and frequent commenter) ccllyyddee, who sent me his copy of Gretel Ehrlich’s The Future of Ice. I dipped into it a bit this weekend; Ehrlich seems to be walking that strange line between the physical and metaphysical. A description from her website–
In this gripping circumnavigation of the Arctic Circle, Gretel Ehrlich paints a vivid portrait of the indigenous cultures that inhabit the starkly beautiful boreal landscape surrounding the Arctic Ocean, an ice-bound wilderness that includes northern Siberia, northwestern Greenland, Canada’s vast Nunavut, and northern Alaska. Ehrlich’s expedition, supported by the National Geographic Society, documents what remains of these cultures, specifically the similarities and differences among them, including hunting traditions, shamanic and ceremonial practices, languages and legends—the ways in which they have survived, or have been assimilated, and how they are adapting to the impact of climate change on their ice-age cultures.
Ehrlich is fascinated by what she calls the ecology of culture—the ways in which the human presence of indigenous Arctic people is intricately interwoven with land, rock, river, sea, and ice. Depicting human-caused climate change as only the latest and most destructive of the ills and abuses first peoples have been suffering for 250 years, Ehrlich’s haunting and lovely prose portrays ancient tribes and traditions on the edge of extinction and captures the austere beauty of their various lifeways in the frozen dreamscape of the world they have always known.