Pen names

Mikale’s Top Picks for 2016



Dear 2016, see ya later.

Like so many of us, I’m sort of ready for this year to be over. While in my personal and professional life I’ve met a number of invaluable people, and had more adventures than I can count, in general I think it’s fair to say that on a global level 2016 was a bit of a dud. As such, I find myself looking forward to 2017 with anxious trepidation… With all these feeeeeeelings it’s been a great year to  escape into the beautiful, fantastical world of fiction.

2016 was a great year for books,therefore allow me to  present my top five reads of the past year. I noticed a few patterns in my reading this year (apparently I’ve read A LOT of depressing literary fiction) so in an effort to be a little less insular, I’ve broken my list down into five of my  go-to’s.

Hope you enjoy, and good luck out there.


Best Series:  Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels brilliantfriend

I am halfway through this four-part coming-of-age series which spans the life-long friendship of two intelligent and perceptive girls growing up in the Naples region of Italy.  Although the premise may seem simple, this character-driven series is all about the complexities and nuances of  both female friendship, and more generally of women’s lives. As such, it felt like one of the more fully developed explorations of a women’s experience I’ve ever read, with feminist themes throughout. Don’t let the awful cover art fool you: I can’t recommend this one enough and have already bought copies of My Brilliant Child for a few of my favorite women this Christmas.

*Still haven’t convinced you? Read this blog post about the author’s mysterious identity! 

Best Short Story Collection: B.J. Novak’s One More Thing 

onemorethingIf I were ever to decide to track down a celebrity and woo them with every ounce of wit and charm I posses, I’m pretty sure it would be for The Office’s B.J. Novak. While he didn’t do much for me as TV star, as an author? Oh boy.

He first came into the literary spotlight with the genius children’s story  The Book With No Pictures however with his latest collection of short stories Mr. Novak has proven himself capable of captivating audiences of all ages. In short, One More Thing is hilarious and charming. I listened to the audiobook, and found myself giggling like a lunatic on the seabus listening to a fictionalized John Grisham come to grips with a monumental typo, then later tearing up over the title story of a Willy Wonka-esque golden ticket draw which threatens to unravel a family.  Although I am not normally a huge short story fan, this book captivated me.


Best Dystopic Why-Bother-With-Life Fiction: The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver   mandibles

Word of advice: this is not an appropriate read when feeling down or financially pinched, during election time, or when travelling long distances on public transit.  Set in the not-too-distant future, The Mandibles is the story of one upper middle class Brooklyn  family as they struggle for survival following the crash of the US dollar in favor of an international currency called the Bancor.  Shriver’s story is less fantastical and more of an examination of how delicate our economic system really is, and thus is not only plausible but illuminating. Like a modern day Grapes of Wrath, this book  takes its readers down a seemingly endless hole of hopeless despair, and doesn’t offer a breath of air until ( thankfully unlike Grapes) the end. What I liked most about this book was how much I learned about economic theory. What I disliked? Well, it wasn’t the right choice of reading material during the US election…..


vegetarianBest Quirky and Compelling: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian is an experience. This three-part South Korean novella is  about a “previously unremarkable” young woman who decides to quit eating meat after a violent, bloody dream; a decision that sets in motion a series of events which eventually tears apart her family and social circle. Reading this book reminded me of a more guttural Murakami, with imagery so startlingly visceral and bizarre that I wish there was an accompanying graphic novel. Many of my coworkers didn’t get into this one, but the fact that I’m still thinking about this book six months later tells me it deserves to be on this list.

Overall Favourite: The Course of Love by Alain de Botton  course-of-love

I spend too much a lot of time thinking about the nature of relationships and the concept of romanticism.  As such, this book hit me right in the gut by combining both a well-written story, and the theoretical examination of a marriage.  I’ve already talked about this book so often both on this blog and to my friends that I’ll keep it short, and rather point you to this. Since first reading my library copy, I’ve purchased two copies to give out to friends, and have a few more to handout as Christmas presents.


-Mikale Fenton

What is in a name?


I’m currently reading the best-selling Neapolitan book series written by the elusive and mysterious writer Elena Ferrante—the pseudonymous Italian novelist whose true identity is not publicly known, yet was recently named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.  The further I delve into Ferrante’s world, the more I want to know about its creator and yet I, along with millions of her readers, are left to wonder—a fact which I  find to be simultaneously enormously frustrating and

I keep asking myself why I care. Why does it matter who authored these words? As Ferrante herself said in this rare interview with Vanity Fair, ” My books increasingly demonstrate their independence, so I see no reason to change my position…..for those who love literature, the books are enough.”

I think my itching curiosity stems from the familiar intimacy of Ferrante’s writing. One of the reasons the Neapolitan series is so remarkable is because of the ruthless and brutally authentic way it depicts the challenging “terra incognita” of female friendship. Ferrante’s writing is  emotionally honest and so true-to-life that it could only be at least partially autobiographical (as confirmed in that same Vanity Fair interview). As fellow novelist Lauren Groff said,  “It’s odd, though, to imagine that a photo or biography could tell us more about Ferrante than her astonishing books.”

Is this why an author’s identity feels important to some readers…because we want to put a face to our protagonist’s voice? Or are we simply intrigued by those who are willing to toll-away and pour themselves into their work, yet insistently shirk away from the seductive pull of praise, acclaim and fame.

Of course Ferrante is by no means the first author to publish their works using a pen name. She is, however, one of the few to do so with such success—both in terms of book sales and continued anonymity. In celebration of this literary-feat, I present a shortlist of several other favorite writers who, despite their best efforts, have been “outed” for publishing their works as someone else.


(Click the hyperlink attached to each name to access NVCL’s collected works from each pseudonymous author)

Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling

cuckooscallingThanks to the Harry Potter franchise  J.K. Rowling has become a household name,  however her first book aimed at an adult audience,  Casual Vacancy, wasn’t well-received  by readers and critics alike. In an effort to test her skills and release some of the pressure associated with being one of the world’s most famous authors, Rowling submitted The Cuckoos Calling, book one of the Cormorant Strike mystery series,  to publishers using the pen name Robert Galbraith. The book was accepted, however it wasn’t long before Rowling was outed as the real author and the book became an international best-seller.

Richard Bachman  a.k.a. Steven King bachmanking


Back in the 70’s, Stephen King’s publishers were worried that he was producing too much content too quickly and that it would eventually affect his reputation and subsequent book sales. Rather than slow down, the prolific author decided to begin publishing under the pseudonym Richard Bachman as a test to see if his success was earned by merit, or blind luck. It wasn’t long however before readers began to notice similarities in both authors writing style and King had to fess up.


Isak Dinensen a.k.a. Karen Blixen

outofafricaFor some authors, pseudonyms provide an opportunity is way to escape their famous reputations and write freely,  historically however many women resorted to assuming a man’s name in order to have their work taken seriously. Danish writer Karen Blixen – the author of the classic memoir Out of Africa used a number of pen names throughout her career. Blixen’s most well-known male pseudonym was Isak Dinesen. Other examples of female authors who chose male pen names include the Bronte sisters and Louisa May Alcott.

Craig Davidson aka Nick Cutter The+Deep

Referred to as “the worst-kept secret in Canadian publishing “, award-winning short story writer and novelist Craig Davidson began using the pen name Nick Cutter a few years ago as a tool to be able publish horror novels without delineating reader’s attentions from Davidson’s more “serious prose. Apparently it worked. According to this Globe and Mail article, Davidson’s Giller-nominated Cataract City lasted one week on The Globe and Mail’s bestseller list in November, 2013, however Cutter’s The Troop,  enjoyed 11 weeks on the list, spanning the spring and summer of last year. As stated by J.R. McCovney,  “although it grinds against entrenched notions of literature as a cradle of authenticity – a home for the lyrical, the personal, the truth – the notion that one human can contain different writers has long been a way to facilitate creativity or tackle the challenges of publication.”

So my question is, have you ever thought about publishing your writing using a pen name? And if so, why? What would it be?

Happy sleuthing everyone!