Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Modern Language Association 2013

I spent last week at the Modern Language Association’s 2013 conference in Boston.  Our booth was filled with classic and new books. 

Here are just a few of the highlights.

Soul Mountain by Gao XingjianA high point of the conference was Gao Xingjian—winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature—making a rare appearance in the United States. Mabel Lee, translator of many of Gao Xingjian’s works—including Soul Mountain—co-hosted a reception for Gao that was sponsored by the MLA, the French Consulate Boston, Cambria Press, HarperCollins, and the Reverie Foundation in Hong Kong.

Louise Erdrich’s The Round House—winner of the National Book Award—was the book that captured the most attention. Professors who have taught Erdrich were truly happy to see the National Book Award medal on her latest novel. And, the subject matter (“A stunning and devastating tale of hate crimes and vengeance. . . . Erdrich covers a vast spectrum of history, cruel loss, and bracing realizations.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist, starred review) of the novel drew in people who hadn’t considered teaching Erdrich’s previous novels. The paperback edition will be available in May 2013.

The stack of galleys of The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley’s Masterpiece by Roseanne Montillo (Emerson College) generated a lot of talk and excitement. One professor told me that she’s putting together a course on Monsters in Literature and the reading list will include books such as Frankenstein, The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff, and Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, and now The Lady and Her Monsters! If you’d like to follow suit, here’s a terrific resource on monsters in literature and film from Dr. Michael A. Delahoyde of Washington State University.
Mark Doty, winner of the National Book Award for Poetry for Fire to Fire, was interviewed during the conference—and he stopped by our booth to sign copies of his memoirs (Firebird, Heaven’s Coast, Dog Years) and his poetry (Fire to Fire, Source, School of the Arts).

Other hits included Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon, Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence, Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, and Family Fang by Kevin Wilson.

I gave away copies of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (featured on list after list of best books of 2012) because I am determined that it will be adopted—and professors were impressed by its subject and themes, the reviews, and how accessible the book is.

Another giveaway was Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles—a re-imagining of The Iliad written from Patroclus's point of view.  Ms. Miller's novelwinner of the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction—beautifully brings to light the romantic love between the narrator and Achilles ("[A] timeless love story."—O magazine)—and those teaching gay literature as well as professors of the classics were happy to have a copy.

Conference going means eating out so here’s my tip for Boson: B&G Oysters on Tremont Street. Great, very fresh raw oysters—and their fried oysters—no mean feat—are equally amazing. In the warmer weather, the patio out back is a wonderful place to have lunch or dinner.


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