A Free Book from J.K. Rowling

The author of the Harry Potter series is channeling Charles Dickens, by creating a book in installments. Her new children’s book – The Ickabog – to be published in November, 2020, is available now free and online, chapter by chapter, day by day, until its publication in print,

Dickens popularized serializing books in the nineteenth century, forcing readers to wait to read the next chapter in the newspaper or magazine publishing it the following week.  Mark Twain followed the style in America, as did other popular authors of the time, including Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Serialization has been spotty in modern times since the popularity of short stories, but Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities was serialized in Rolling Stone magazine before it became a book, and then a movie.  Stephen King first published The Green Mile in six low-priced paperback volumes in 1996; Alexander McCall Smith published 44 Scotland Street, in 2004, every weekday, for six months in The Scotsman; Margaret Atwood wrote the Positron series in installments in 2012; and now, J. K. Rowling has serialized The Ickabog – for free.

Cliffhangers are an important characteristic of serialized stories; Jeffrey Archer did it so well with his novel series, The Clifton Chronicles, and J.K. Rowling uses the same incentive to keep the reader wanting more.  Rowling, however, keeps the story rolling faster with a free online chapter every day, over the next seven weeks.

According to Rowling, The Ickabog is a story about truth and the abuse of power.”  Sounds familiar and timely but Rowling insists “the idea came to me well over a decade ago, so it isn’t intended to be read as a response to anything that’s happening in the world right now.  The themes are timeless and could apply to any era or any country.”  But King Fred the Fearless has yellow hair and two companions who influence his every move; they are “expert at flattery, pretending to be astonished  by how good King Fred was at everything…”

The online site The Ickabog already has eight chapters, and the myth of the Ickabog has yet to be more than a mention, but the anticipation is real – something is going to happen.   The book has 34 chapters and will be published as a print and ebook in November,  but the delicious chapter by chapter telling now is as tempting as the famous cakes from Fred’s kingdom.

A great bedtime story for children and a wonderful adventure for adults

🐳🍫 𝕥ⓗ𝐄 𝐢ⓒ𝐤ค𝕓Oⓖ 💥ඏ    What does The Ickabog look like?  Rowling has a contest for 7-12 year olds to decide. We’ll find out the winner in November.

A President Who Reads

I like lists of recommended books whether from movie stars like Reese Witherspoon, industry leaders like Bill Gates, or from Presidents who read. Barack Obama has a list, with a nod to recently deceased author Toni Morrison – “You can’t go wrong by reading or re-reading the collected works of Toni Morrison

His reading list has one of my old favorites – Mantel’s “Wolf Hall.” I wonder if he is just discovering this 2009 classic? Another a book is by an author local to me, Hope Jahren.  Although she has moved on from the University of Hawaii, her book “Lab Girl”prompted me to look for a Hawaiian tree mentioned in her book.  I wonder if she knows they have drastically trimmed its branches.

I will probably skip Chiang’s collection of short stories but will give Whitehead’s new book a try, since a friend has given it high marks. Hurakami is one of my favorite authors but I prefer his novels to short stories.  I suspect, but would rather not know what the internet is doing to our brains in Carr’s “The Shallows.

I’ve ordered Wilkinson’s American Spy from the library, described by Mick Herron in the New York Times as a “murder mystery that offers genuine social insight,” and purchased Tea Obreht’s Inland – I still remember Obreht’s first complicated novel, “The Tiger’s Wife.”

Here’s the list from a President who reads:

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead.
Exhalation by Ted Chiang.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson.
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.
How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu.
Maid by Stephanie Land.
Inland by Téa Obreht

Have you read any?

Hatchett Book Group has a website at https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/articles/best-read-u-s-presidents/ with a list of Best-Read U.S. Presidents, ranging from John Adams to Barack Obama. Shakespeare, Washington Irving, Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill, Tom Clancy, Ralph Ellison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Doris Kearns Goodwin were some of the authors who made the list of Presidential favorites.

You Think It, I’ll Say It

41DEW3Ka+yL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_A few good short stories in my old New Yorkers by Allegra Goodman (“FAQs”) in a September, 2017 issue and one by Curtis Sittenfeld  (“Show Don’t Tell”  in a June, 2017 issue, reminded me to download Sittenfeld’s new book of short stories – You Think It, I’ll Say it – a collection of short stories, to Audible.  So far the stories are racier than expected, but with quiet deadpan endings that don’t always register with this listener.  I have been halfway through the next story before realizing I missed the ending of the former.  I could use a gong or a bell to signal the next story starting, but each has a unique and identifiable perspective on the character’s condition – confusion, betrayal, rage, disappointment, regret…

Characters are judgmental, while believing others are secretly judging them.  “Gender Studies” is the  story of a newly single professor having the “anthropological experience” of a one-night stand with a Trump-supporting working-class bus driver.  In “A Regular Couple,”  two women meet again years after high school – one the ugly duckling growing into a successful beauty and the other the popular pretty girl turning into a drudge.  Both are on their honeymoon.  Resentments flair and the final, petty act of revenge horribly satisfying. Sittenfeld’s characters are not very nice but very real.

Susan Dominus in her review for the New York Times says

“In the lives of Sittenfeld’s characters, the lusts and disappointments of youth loom large well into middle age, as insistent as a gang of loud, showy teenagers taking up all the oxygen in the room…The women of “You Think It, I’ll Say It” are, as a group, a demanding breed. They often assume the worst in their imagined adversaries. Sometimes they are wrong, but they are right about just enough (and funny enough) that we forgive them. And, because they know they need absolution for their own worst motives, we forgive those, too.”

Reese Witherspoon has optioned the book for the screen, and Sittenfeld is busy finalizing her next novel, due out in 2019 – she will be imagining how Hillary Clinton’s life might have played out if she had turned down Bill’s marriage proposal and never married him.  I can’t wait.

 

Review of Sisterland

 

 

 

Tell Tale – Shorts by Archer

9781447252290tell tale_5_jpg_260_400    After following the characters in Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles for years (one character was named after me, but only my first name appears in one of the short stories), it’s a relief to have a few shorts without cliffhangers in Archer’s new book of short stories – Tell Tale.

In fourteen short stories, Archer targets a range of characters and lifestyles, from the bank executive forced to retire months before his pension, to the iron monger who became a theologian.  In one story, “The Holiday of a Lifetime,” Archer offers the reader a choice of endings, and two well-known literary characters pop up in “A Wasted Hour” and “A Good Toss to Lose.”   Demonstrating his talent for writing clever plots, Jeffrey Archer begins and ends his collection with stories confined to 100 words; the others are varying lengths, but each has a surprising O’Henry twist at the end.

Archer’s newest collection of short stories is as entertaining as his novels, and he ends with a teaser for his fans – the first four chapter of his next novel – “Heads You Win” to be published next year – I can’t wait.

Short Stories

thumbnail_IMG_4133    After listening to Lauren Groff read her short story “Dogs Go Wolf” in the New Yorker about two little girls, ages four and seven, left behind on a deserted island, I thought about why I preferred novels to short stories.  In Groff’s voice, the little girls came alive, their trials of fear and hunger seemed more acute than if I had read about it.  Their misery continues through a half hour – or six pages in the New Yorker – getting more and more horrible, until they eventually fall into a stupor – “two little girls made of air.”  To distract from the horror, Groff inserts a promise of their future – one becoming a lawyer, the other married – before returning to the blazing sun and the little wolves they’ve become.   By the end of the story, they are rescued, but the gap in their lives seems hollow in the short description of the incident on the island that made them whoever they became.   Perhaps Groff will write more in a novel.  I’d like to know more about these brave souls.

Short stories offer a quick glimpse into a moment of the characters’ lives.  Edith Pearlman and Jane Gardam have successfully navigated the difficulty of the short – both offering soundbites worth remembering.  I am looking forward to reading Penelope Lively’s collection in “The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories.”  When I write, I prefer the short story, as difficult as it may be to condense, to spending years with the characters of a novel – but maybe that will change.

For now, the short story is a quick diversion, and when well-written, has a lot to offer, but I still prefer immersing myself in the novel.  Claire Messud’s two little girls in “The Burning Girl” have me mesmerized right now, and I am glad to have them with me for longer than a short.

Do you have a preference?  short story or novel?

To hear Groff’s story – listen to the podcast here

Reviews of Other Books by Groff: