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Book News: Get To Know Patrick Modiano, The Newly Minted Nobel Laureate

Patrick Modiano, who's typically known for being media-shy, steps into the spotlight for a press conference in Paris following his Nobel win on Thursday. Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

Patrick Modiano, who's typically known for being media-shy, steps into the spotlight for a press conference in Paris following his Nobel win on Thursday.

Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

As you may have heard by now, French novelist Patrick Modiano has taken home this year's Nobel Prize in Literature. To some, this announcement comes as no surprise. In France, especially, Modiano has managed that rarest of feats: becoming a perennial bestseller while also winning the country's most prestigious literary awards, including the Prix Goncourt.

In the English-speaking world, for the most part, the reaction was a bit different. In fact, it could be summed in one word: Who?

With good reason: Despite Modiano's prolific writing career, only six of his books have been translated into English and only a few of those are still in print. Forget reading his books — before yesterday, it was difficult for American readers just to find a recent profile of the guy, beyond two lonely (but excellent) articles in FranceToday and The Jewish Daily Forward.

Never fear. Modiano's indie U.S. publisher, David R. Godine, still has copies of three of his works available in English. As for the drought of information on the man? Well, now you have as many profiles of Modiano — and portraits of him staring meaningfully into middle-distance — as you could wish for. Here are a few notable introductions, picked from the flood:

  • First, read his writing for yourself: excerpts from three of his booksMissing Person, Honeymoon and his children's book Catherine Certitude, found in The Wall Street Journal.
  • Then, listen to what NPR's Lynn Neary — and a few Modiano buffs — have to say about the motivations that drive him. "He has said repeatedly that the Occupation is for him his prehistory," says French literature professor Andre Benhaim. "He considers that if there hadn't been an occupation of Paris by the Germans, he wouldn't have been born."
  • French writer Clemence Boulouque tells The New Yorker "that in his three dozen or so novels Modiano has returned again and again to the same themes: the pull of the past, the threat of disappearance, the blurring of moral boundaries, 'the dark side of the soul.' "
  • In The Paris Review, Dan Piepenberg has a snarky review of the grandiose, and often puzzling, citations issued by the Swedish Academy, which picks the Nobel winner. "If you read through all the citations, you'll start to detect certain patterns. Any aspirant Nobel Prize-winner should take note: These may hold the key to victory."
  • And what's a Nobel announcement without another lament for the tragic — but, seriously, not that tragic — fate of Philip Roth?
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American author Truman Capote.
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Capote Uncovered: In the course of some routine research into Truman Capote, a Swiss publisher stumbled upon a pleasant surprise. "While poring over Capote's writings and papers at the New York Public Library, the publisher, Peter Haag, discovered a collection of previously unpublished short stories and poems from Capote's youth," reports The New York Times. Several of the stories, supposed to have been written when Capote was 14 to 17 years old, were published Thursday in the German publication ZEITmagazin. Seventeen more are slated for publication by Random House in 2015.

Chinese Poet Arrested: The Associated Press reports that Chinese police detained poet Wang Zang and seven others last week, on the eve of a reading supporting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The poet's lawyer told the AP that Wang Zang faces a prison sentence of up to three years for "provoking trouble."

A note to readers: Book News will be taking a brief break on Monday. But don't worry: Look for the weekly forecast when we return on Tuesday.