The Book Briefing: Margaret Atwood, Harper Lee

In 1999, Gayl Jones published a book that reads how jazz sounds. Her fourth novel, Mosquito, is an ambitious, experimental riff that mixes historical and philosophical beats and finds connections between border tensions between the United States and Mexico and the Underground Railroad. Mosquito showed the far-reaching talents of an author heralded by Toni Morrison and fresh on a nomination for the National Book Award. It was also the last novel Jones would publish in more than two decades.

What makes a writer wait decades to publish? What does that time do to the stories they eventually tell? When Jones recently appeared with his fifth novel, Palmares, a six-volume work focusing on a settlement of black Brazilians, the mystery of her absence was as compelling as her far-reaching historical fable. Her linguistic invention, refined over the course of a patient career, is as impressive now as when Morrison, then editor of Random House, first met her writing in 1974.

Similarly reluctantly, the late Harper Lee often seemed suspicious of the fame she gained from To kill a choke. Perhaps that caution explains why she repeatedly stopped publishing the follow-up to her iconic 1960s novel. In 2015, while reports of the elderly author’s poor health and fragile memory abounded, the sequel became Put a guard suddenly appeared. Under these dubious circumstances, the question may not be what took so long for the book to come, but why it was published at all.

Margaret Atwood, on the other hand, is not a recluse. Yet the author is off The waitress’ story was especially reluctant when it came to her most famous dystopian universe. She waited 34 years before finally delivering a sequel to the book. Where Put a guard‘s controversial release risked contradicting the authority of a vulnerable author, in the case of The wills, Atwood’s agency is undeniable. She recounts the story with surprising shifts in the narrative. By screwing up readers’ expectations, the saga of the maids again becomes Atwood’s unique creation.

Sister Souljah probably enjoys the way her novel is The coldest winter ever has become not only a cornerstone of black-owned bookstores, but also the beloved food in middle school classes and cafeterias since its debut in 1999. When she aired the follow-up, Life after death22 years later, she offered the mainstream publishing industry a chance to catch up on what her readers have always known: Her so-called street lit is simply literature, neither more nor less.

We may never know why some writers disappear, but their reunion can be a gift. Joy Williams’ precise new work sounds both intrusively summoned and naturally coherent with the literary themes that have appeared in her stories for decades. In the apocalyptic Harrow, her first novel in 21 years, haunts an assembly of ghosts on the pages. They point us to nerve-wracking things, like how we live side by side with death. They also point us to what came before: the words that persist despite – and long after – an author’s silence.

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What we read

Illustration by Gayl Jones

Johnalynn Holland

The best American novelist whose name you may not know

“All of Jones’ women are on the run, but from book to book they are more likely to have a place to go.”


Copy of the book "Put a guard," by Harper Lee

Rob Stothard / Getty

The sadness of a successor

“Why end the silence? And why do it now? Maybe it was really as simple as a manuscript lost and restored, serendipital to all involved … Or maybe Lee, alive but sick, is treated the way so many deceased writers is: as ideas rather than people, as brands and companies rather than cluttered collections of doubts and desires. “

📚 To kill a choke, by Harper Lee
📚 Put a guard, by Harper Lee

Portrait of Margaret Atwood

Rosdiana Ciaravolo / Getty

Margaret Atwood’s challenge

“Publishing a sequel after such a long time is inevitable to suggest that it’s her book and her world, after all.”

📚 The waitress’ story, by Margaret Atwood
📚The wills, by Margaret Atwood

Portrait of Sister Souljah

Anthony Barboza / Getty

The original bad bitch of literature is back

Life after death provides an opportunity to more thoroughly consider literature of its kind – for those of us who first became acquainted with Winter as teenagers, and for a publishing industry that still does not fully understand characters like her. “


Pictures of field and man on bicycle

Joe Sohm / Universal Images / Getty; Getty; Catherine Falls / Getty; Cedric von Niederhausern / Atlanterhavet

Prophet of nothingness

“For decades now, Williams has been engrossed in this question: How would death be, and how would we live differently if we knew?”


About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Nicole Acheampong. The book she keeps close is All about love, at bell hooks.

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