Car accidents, library burning, a world in which people exist mainly to serve machines… How’s that for an uplifting start to the new year? We bring you a selection of the week’s most depressing literary news, eighty words at a time.
Aujourd’hui, Albert Camus est mort. Or, today 54 years ago. Camus — writer, existentialist philosopher, Racing Universitaire d’Alger goalkeeper — died with his publisher in a road accident, an unused train ticket still in his pocket. January 4 also marks the birthdays of Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian and James Bond, the ornithologist whose guide to the Birds of the West Indies was conveniently situated on Ian Fleming’s desk while the author struggled to think of a ‘brief, unromantic’ name for a spy.
‘The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are,’ wrote Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451. In Tripoli, northern Lebanon, a group of ‘asses and fools’ have set fire to the city’s biggest library, on the grounds that the curator published an article that ‘offends Islam’. Readers may be entitled to wonder whether burning thousands of books on Islamic history, plus multiple copies of the Quran, perhaps offends Islam a tiny bit more than writing an innocuous article.
A highbrow pub quiz question for you: what links Charles de Gaulle, Pablo Neruda and Aksel Sandemose? All were among the nominees for the 1963 Nobel Prize for Literature, according to new information from the prize’s archives. Neruda was one of the final three candidates, alongside fellow poets WH Auden and Giorgos Seferis, with the Swedish Academy unanimously in favour of Seferis. Vladimir Nabokov was also among the nominees, but the Academy reportedly found Lolita ‘immoraliska’, which needs no translation.
Welcome to 2014. Boston-Washington is a single city with a population of 40 million. Conversations between Earth and the moon are hampered by a 2.5-second delay. Humankind exists largely to tend machines, suffers badly from ‘the disease of boredom’ and longs for ‘creative work of any sort.’ This is the future according to Isaac Asimov, asked to imagine the 2014 World’s Fair for the New York Times. Any authors brave enough to share their predictions for 2064, please step forward…