Archive for the ‘An Author You May Not Know’ Category


Little-known 90-year-old wins $100,000 poetry award

Eleanor Ross Taylor, born in 1920 in North Carolina, has been given the American Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly award


With most of her work out of print until last year, 90-year-old American poet Eleanor Ross Taylor probably thought her days of winning literary prizes were over. Not so: Taylor has just been announced as the winner of the American Poetry Foundation’s $100,000 (£65,000) Ruth Lilly award for a poet “whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition”.

Read more …



Ever heard of the romance writer Amanda McKittrick Ros? Most likely not, though she was an author read by such notables as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Mark Twain, among others. So she must have been a worthy writer, right? Well, not exactly. In actuality, they read her works as part of a contest to see who could read the longest without bursting into laughter. Not exactly the most prestigious distinction, but it IS a distinction.

Can’t argue with that, now, can you?

Her other distinction was her rampant usage of alliteration. That and her incredibly melodramatic language made Twain et. al. read her work for the sheer entertainment value only the truly bad can offer. Never mind Bulwer-Lytton’s “It was a dark and stormy night…” McKittrick Ros blew the man completely out of the water. She showed HIM who’s truly bad.

Amanda McKittrick Ros (1860-1939) was an Irish writer who fancied herself an aristocrat. She dropped the ending “s” in her last name in a vain attempt to align herself with Danish nobility, in an effort to claim a family line that wasn’t anywhere near hers. She was, according to reports, a terrible snob who most likely had no idea what she was writing was anything other than profoundly literary. Which, of course, makes it all the more funny.

Despite the fact so many have laughed at her work, she’s become a sort of cult-classic icon in the way the truly bad can sometimes become. At the upcoming “Celebrate Literary Belfast” festival her work will be profiled for the “benefit” of a new generation of readers. To “honor” her, they’re planning a contest in which the winner will read the longest extract of her work without laughing. Ah, to be a fly on that wall…

Here’s an example of the sort of prose she wrote: “The living sometimes learn the touchy tricks of the traitor, the tardy and the tempted; the dead have evaded the flighty earthy future, and form to swell the retinue of retired rights, the righteous school of the invisible and the rebellious roar of the raging nothing.”

Feeling a bit queasy yet? I should have warned you, sorry.

If any of the above should leave you feeling inclined to read any of her works, I should warn you they’re out of print and prices start at around $ 300. That’s the price you pay for kitsch, I guess.

A bibliography of the works of Amanda McKittrick Ros:

Irene Iddesleigh (novel, 1897)
Delina Delaney (novel, 1898)
Poems of Puncture (poetry, 1912)
Fumes of Formation (poetry, 1933)
Helen Huddleston (posthumous novel)
Jack Loudan (1954) O Rare Amanda!: The Life of Amanda McKittrick Ros (London: Chatto & Windus 1954)
Thine in Storm and Calm – An Amanda McKittrick Ros Reader, edited by Frank Ormsby(The Blackstaff Press, 1988.)

Bohumil Hrabal

Posted: July 25, 2006 in An Author You May Not Know


From Too Loud a Solitude :

“If I knew how to write, I’d write a book about the greatest of man’s joys and sorrows. It is by and from books that I’ve learned that the heavens are not humane, neither the heavens nor any man with a head on his shoulders – it’s not that men don’t wish to be humane, it just goes against common sense.”

I think I feel a new reading obsession coming on.

Bohumil Hrabal was a Czech writer who wrote with “an extremely expressive, highly visual style.” I’m not sure where I found the recommendation, but someone somewhere told me I should have a go at his Too Loud a Solitude. Luckily, I was able to track this one down via interlibrary loan as frankly book purchases lately have been just a bit out of control (mea culpa), and the bills for the next school year arrived recently.

So, to whomever recommended Hrabal, THANK YOU.

Too Loud a Solitude is about a man named Hanta whose job is to compact trash. He’s been doing this particular job for 35 years, and though it may see a completely mindless, even menial job, the glimmering light is that part of the trash he compacts contains books. From this trash he extracts all sorts of volumes, bringing them home to add to the already huge piles of books in his home. He has books piled everywhere, even on a sagging shelf over his bed. Hanta is enchanted by books:

“But just as a beautiful fish will occasionally sparkle in the waters of a polluted river that runs through a stretch of factories, so in the flow of old paper the spine of a rare book will occasionally shine forth, and if for a moment I turn away, dazzled, I always turn back in time to rescue it, and after wiping it off on my apron, opening it wide, and breathing in its print, I glue my eyes to the text and read out the first sentence like a Homeric prophecy; then I place it carefully among my other splendid finds in a small crate lined with the holy cards someone once dropped into my cellar by mistake with a load of prayer books, and then comes my ritual, my mass: not only do I read every one of those books, I take each and put it in a bale, because I have a need to garnish my bales, give them my stamp…”

Though Hanta’s boss thinks him an idiot, it very quickly becomes apparent he’s anything but that.

“I have a physical sense of myself as a bale of compacted books, the seat of a tiny pilot light of karma, like the flame in a gas refrigerator, an eternal flame I feed daily with the oil of my thoughts, which come from what I unwittingly read during work in the books I am now taking home in my briefcase. So I walk home like a burning house, like a burning stable, the light of life pouring out of the fire, fire pouring out of the dying wood, hostile sorrow lingering under the ashes.”

This is a beautifully written little book. I recommend it very highly.



Pardon me while I rant again about this writer, but she’s really exceptional and I just love her books. The downside is she’s written only nine, and I’ve already read four of them. The upside is she’s been producing bestselling novels in Europe at the rate of one per year, so assuming she continues that pattern I should be able to survive that awful feeling of withdrawal once you’ve finished all the books by an author you admire.

The Stranger Next Door by Amelie Nothomb

First off, must correct a grievous error I keep making. Amelie Nothomb is NOT FRENCH! She was born to Belgian parents while living in Japan. She speaks French, it’s true, along with at least a couple of other languages, but she’s actually Belgian if one takes her parentage into account.

Alright, that’s out of the way and I feel better… Just please excuse if you find this error here, or anywhere, in future.

Here’s a link for an article about Amelie Nothomb published just today in the Independent. What an intriguing person she is. Intriguing in an eccentric/bordering on neurotic sort of way, just this side of nutty, that is. She seems to have a certain Holly Golightly character, mais non? No wonder she writes the way she does, and long may she continue.

This latest Nothomb read is probably my favorite so far. I’m not sure how she did it, but she managed to make this tale of incredibly obnoxious neighbors positively chilling. It’s not Stephen King chilling, but still it manages to really give one a turn. It will make you look at your neighbors in an entirely different way, at the very least.

I think this Amazon review captures it well:

From Library Journal

A retired high school teacher and his wife buy a house in the country that appeals to them as the house for their golden years. They have been deeply in love since early childhood and look on each other not only as spouse but as each other’s child and parent, heart and soul. This should-be idyllic scene is rent by the oppressor, in this darkly comic case an obese, irascible, grimly taciturn neighbor who appears at their door daily for a two-hour “visit.” Husband and wife try a variety of coping strategies as the infernal visitations accumulate: gallantry, absurdity, rudeness. All is recounted with a straightforward grace that provides readers with a front-row seat at this black comedy of modern manners. This is the first of the young and already prolific author’s books to appear in the United States. Readers will eagerly anticipate more.?Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., Cal.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

The book has a sort of Kafkaesque feel, or a surreal quality that’s both menacing and entirely ridiculous, at the same time. You ask yourself why this couple doesn’t just eject the man, but they do make an effort only to be foiled time after time, mostly by their own sense of moral decency. It’s really a fascinating psychological portrait, and I’d recommend this most highly of all Nothomb’s works I’ve read so far. Putting it simply: very good stuff!

Amelie Nothomb

Posted: July 6, 2006 in An Author You May Not Know


Amelie Nothomb has a reputation in Europe for being a “precocious” and very talented writer. I hadn’t heard of her at all until a friend with ILT (impeccable literary taste) waxed rhapsodic about a recent Nothomb binge she undertook. Having read one of this author’s works, my ILT friend assured me, there was simply no stopping until she’d continued through them all.

My ILT friend and I are prone to binge-reading (and I’m frankly highly suggestible by nature), and it didn’t take long for me to check the library’s online catalog to see what titles were available within the system. And, impressively, there were lots to choose from, both in Nothomb’s native French and also in translation. I chose three titles that sounded good, and ordered those straightaway.


The first Nothomb title I read was Fear and Trembling, a novel about a young Belgian woman’s struggles to gain respect working in a Japanese company. That may sound very straight-forward, but this book is anything but that. Nothomb eases us into the book gently, slowly piling on episode after episode as the main character (also Amelie) suffers continued humilations at the hands of her Japanese bosses. She does this in a way that’s both horrifying and humorous, at the same time, showing great writing prowess. Impressive, to say the least.

The book reminded me, in some ways, of the film Lost in Translation. It had that general sort of humorous edge to it, with a dash of surrealism thrown in for good measure. Definitely not a pedestrian, run of the mill sort of novel. It nudges more into experimental fiction, yet it’s also very far from what I’d call Ulysses Syndrome. I have a definite limit when it comes to reading this sort of post-modern, experimental writing, and Nothomb thankfully never quite pushed me out of that comfort zone.


The Book of Proper Names was the second book in my Nothomb evening (each book is short, each taking me less than an hour to read). The style of the book is very similar to Fear and Trembling, but the book has a deadpan horror element to it that makes it darker in tone.

The book begins with a very young couple who are expecting a baby. The wife is all of about 19 years old, and the couple lives with the young woman’s parents as they are nowhere near being able to support themselves. In her ninth month of pregnancy the woman, Lucette, gets in an argument over names for the baby. When her husband expresses his desire for what she considers very pedestrian names, Lucette shoots him dead.

The rest of the book deals with the daughter of this union, born in the prison in which Lucette is serving her sentence for murder. Lucette names her daughter Plectrude, despite the protests of the doctor and guards in the prison, who warn her she’ll be made fun of mercilessly for such a strange name. But Lucette is insistent.

Plectrude is a dancer, with “a dancer’s eyes,” and has no aptitude or really any patience for anything else. She’s driven to become a dancer, starving herself to fit the role of the tiny, graceful ballerina. The rest of the book outlines Plectrude’s legacy, as the daughter of the not quite of this world Lucette, and the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.


Finally, I read The Character of Rain, which turned out to be my favorite of the three books. In this book Nothomb writes about her first three years of life, growing up in Japan where her father worked as a Japanese consul. The book is, as expected, semi-autobiographical, written in Nothomb’s own brand of magical realism- inspired prose. It’s tremendously imaginative, and sometimes funny, sometimes horrific.

Young Amelie, until the age of three, thinks of herself as God. She doesn’t make a noise, or even move a muscle, until age two and a half. Her parents call her “the Plant.” In other words, she takes in food and grows, but she has no more interaction with them than a houseplant. Inexplicably, one day Amelie sits up and begins screaming. She barely pauses to take a breath until the arrival of her grandmother, who hands her a piece of white Belgian chocolate. Amelie is finally transformed into a normal toddler, learning to talk and walk, thanks to the Magic of Chocolate.

What happens in the rest of the book is quite possibly even more strange and wondrous than in the early part, and once again Nothomb leaves us uncertain whether we should feel happy or unsettled. Her prose style is, throughout all the books, impressive.

I may read yet more by Nothomb, but after an evening spent reading three of her books I’m feeling mentally drained. It may be a while before I try her again, but I’m thrilled to have found such a singularly interesting writer I’d never heard of before.

I recommend you step out of the mainstream comfort zone of fiction and give her a try. And if you do I’d love to know what you think.