paper trail

James McBride wins National Book Award; Are bleak books motivational?

James McBride, considered an "underdog" contestant, has won this years National Book Award for fiction. Other winners are George Packer (for nonfiction), Mary Szybist (poetry), and Cynthia Kadohata (young people's literature).

A week ago, Wyoming senatorial candidate Liz Cheney made news by publicly breaking with her sister over gay marriage (Liz opposes it; Mary Cheney is gay and in a same-sex marriage). In the wake of the controversy, Elaine Showalter took the opportunity to revisit Lynne Cheney’s frontier novel Sisters, which is “both a pulpy murder mystery, with cattle barons and homesteaders; and an astoundingly sympathetic treatment of Wyoming women’s culture in 1886.”

Five years ago this month saw the publication of Robert Bolaño’s sprawling opus 2666 in the US, precipitating “one of those rare moments when you could walk into a coffee shop, step onto a bus, or enter a bookstore and find someone raving about or devouring an ambitious novel that topped a thousand pages. ” At Flavorwire, Jason Diamond selects the fifty novels that define the past five years in literature.At The New York Times, Daniel Mendelsohn and Jen Szalai consider “whom or what” literary prizes are for.

One of the country’s first public libraries of culinary literature is now open for business. The library is based in the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans and contains “more than 11,000 volumes, as well as archival documents, menus, and assorted culinary ephemera.”

Can bleak books actually be motivational? Stanford comparative literature professor Amir Eshel thinks so. In a paper that looks at works of art featuring “characters swamped by titanic historical forces” Eshel makes the case that depictions of trauma prompt us to “remain optimistic about shaping the future.” A survey conducted by UK website bookcareers.com looks at starting salaries in British publishing, and, big surprise, finds that the situation is pretty grim: “One of the things that comes out from the data immediately is that entry-level jobs are still paying the same amount they were five years ago. Middle and senior managers are doing slightly better, but there is quite a disparity with those just starting in the industry.” As a result, the world of British publishing is pretty homogenous—those who can’t afford to work for peanuts are priced out of going into the profession.