“Novel” Ideas

Berthoud, Ella & Susan Elderkin. The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness; 751 Books To Cure What Ails You. Penguin Pr. 2013. 432p. index. ISBN 9781594205163. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101638750. LIT

Whether the ailment is serious and psychological (abandonment), physical (constipation), or silly (determined to chase after a woman even though she’s a nun), bibliotherapists Berthoud and Elderkin (founders, School of Life bibliotherapy service, London) have created a literary cure or at least a novel painkiller. While boasting scholarly trappings such as cross-references, indexes, and footnotes (though the latter are often more humorous than explanatory), this earnest guide prescribes titles that include, but also venture beyond, the white Anglo-Saxon protestant–dominated canon, published as recently as 2012. The entries for each complaint are part book report, part agony aunt, and contain a plot summary for each suggested read, as well as commentary on why the recommended treatment is effective. VERDICT Its unusual organization—by ailment rather than by the genre/theme of the proposed solution—sets this title apart from similar collections such as Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason. This appealing and helpful read is guaranteed to double the length of a to-read list and become a go-to reference for those unsure of their reading identities or who are overwhelmed by the sheer number of books in the world.—Megan Hodge, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., Richmond

Freeman, John. How To Read a Novelist. Farrar. Oct. 2013. 368p. illus. ISBN 9780374173265. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780374710576. LIT

In this collection of 55 interviews with contemporary novelists, critic Freeman, the former president of the National Book Critics Circle and editor in chief at Granta magazine, celebrates his best previously published conversations with international literary figures. He describes his interview experience as seeing the “flesh and blood” of creators of fictional worlds. The most revealing detail mentioned in common among the interviewees is how many years authors dedicate to writing their novels. While the reader may spend one weekend with a book, authors dedicate years. Several writers discuss the motivation they experience after their contemporaries write negative reviews. Authors such as Richard Ford describe the need to get away from writing in order to begin the next novel, while others, including Joyce Carol Oates, say that all they know how to do is write. Additional interviewees include John Irving, Amy Tan, Tom Wolfe, Jennifer Egan, Jeffrey Eugenides, and, Freeman’s favorite, John Updike. VERDICT This volume will inspire readers, lead them to new authors, and is an excellent resource for struggling novelists.—Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL

Moore, Steven. The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600–1800. Bloomsbury. 2013. 1024p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781441188694. $39.95; ebk. ISBN 9781623567408. LIT

In literary historian Moore’s first volume, The Novel: An Alternative History, Beginnings to 1600, he asserted, “avant-garde, experimental novels are not a 20th-century development, as is commonly believed, but instead have a long, rich history, one never properly told.” To support this claim, he expanded the definition of “a novel” to “any book-length fictional narrative” and introduced readers to works of fiction largely ignored by traditional histories. This second volume continues the rollicking, wondrous journey begun in the first, starting with Miguel de Cervantes’s 1605 Don Quixote and continuing through Hugh Henry Brackenridge’s 1792 American satire Modern Chivalry. The depth of scholarship is breathtaking, and readers will appreciate Moore’s attempts at levity by interjecting moments of humorous editorializing into discussions of Michael Millot and Jean L’Ange’s 1655 erotic work The School of Venus, for example. However, the surprise commentary can only redistribute so much of the weight of the more than 1,000-page single volume. VERDICT Recommended for academic libraries and those interested in an expanded history of the novel. Readers who feel strongly about distinctions among “romances,” “epics,” and “story cycles” will find more to like in Michael McKeon’s Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach.—Jenny Brewer, Helen Hall Lib., League City, TX

redstar Pavel, Thomas G. The Lives of the Novel: A History. Princeton Univ. Oct. 2013. 320p. index. ISBN 9780691121895. $35. LIT

Pavel (French, comparative literature & social thought, Univ. of Chicago; The Spell of Language: Poststructuralism and Speculation) has written an extensive history of the novel, from third century CE Greek writer Heliodorus of Emesa’s Ethiopian Story (known for having a strong influence on Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes) through modern literature by authors such as Joris-Karl Huysman, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, and Robert Musil. Sweeping in scope and rich in insight, the book throughout supports its main thesis that novelists for centuries have adopted one another’s approaches to writing while competing genres such as idealist vs. anti-idealist and satire vs. realism vied for readers’ attention. Pavel’s perceptive analyses of particular novels (e.g., the brilliant dissection of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment) combined with his wide, intellectual reach and his love of the novel embrace all kinds of writing, but there are intentional omissions; there is no mention of English novelists Ivy Compton-Burnett and Henry Green nor Argentine novelist Julio Cortázar or British India–born novelist Lawrence Durrell, and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is mentioned only in passing. VERDICT This title will delight and enrich both the serious student of literature and devotees of the novel.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA