Simenon

Henry James, Raymond Chandler, Thomas Pynchon, J. K. Rowling, Franz Kafka: As a new anthology shows, no writer is too sacred for parody. Eric Ormsby considers highlights in the history of literary ridicule.

If you're looking for an exra-bleak holiday-weekend book, try Simenon's spiky psychological thriller Red Lights (1955), which opens on the Friday evening before Labor Day, as New Yorker Steve Hogan leaves his Madison Avenue office to meet his wife. They are about to drive to Maine, but first, Steve needs a drink. Once they're on the road, he pulls over at a bar, where he loses his wife (literally), meets an ex-con, and slips into his own personal hurricane. Need we mention that Steve's Saturday morning—which finds him sleeping on a roadside—isn't pretty? Needless to say, we hope your travels go better than Steve's did.

Flavorwire lists the top-ten bookstores in the U.S.

"Some nine months on, I can report that the Man Booker has done me nothing but good," writes novelist Hilary Mantel, who is working on a sequel to Wolf Hall. Still, the prize hasn't gone to her head: "Even when you are taking your bow, lapping up applause, you do know this brute fact: that you are only as good as your next sentence. You might wake up tomorrow and not be able to do it."

The anonymous satirical force known on Twitter as Evil Wylie grants an interview to Independent Publisher.


W.G. Sebald

In a letter to shareholders filed with the S.E.C., Barnes and Noble's board of directors write that they believe Los Angeles-based investor Ronald Burkle has "a self-serving agenda to seize control of Barnes and Noble," and outline actions that the shareholders can take to thwart the coup. They write: "Burkle has provided no strategic vision and offered no plan for the Company’s future. Instead, he continues to take conflicting positions, hoping shareholders will be taken in. We think only one conclusion is clear—you cannot believe what Burkle says, and you certainly do not want him in a position to control your Company!" Meanwhile, one of Barnes and Noble's major locations, near Lincoln Center in Manhattan, is closing early next year, and will be replaced by discount fashion store Century 21.

Steve Jobs announced yesterday that consumers have downloaded 35 million books using iTunes. It's interesting to note that iTunes music downloads (which are approaching 12 billion) will soon pass up CD sales.

The New Republic's Ruth Franklin gives a smart, entertaining peek into the world of alikewise.com, the new dating site for book lovers, where she searches for Sebald fans in vain. In the process, she points out that there's "something narcissistic about choosing a partner based on the congruency of his or her tastes with one’s own."

So you've got an iPad, and are feeling very smart and cutting edge—after all, it is the coolest gadget the 21st century has to offer. But then you start to realize that the things are awfully fragile. It's time to buy a case, and there are thousands to choose from. Feeling nostalgic? There are cases that make your iPad look like an Etch-A-Sketch or a sketchbook. There are leather cases, chrome cases, and Noprene sleeves. There is a whole cottage industry of cases, but none of them are quite right. Perhaps it is time to look into the new Kindle.

John le Carre reveals that the intelligence agency he worked for "carried out assassinations during the Cold War."

If you're looking for holiday-weekend reading material, InDigest has posted reading lists by, among others, poet-critic Stephen Burt, fiction writer (and Bookforum contributor) Justin Taylor, and commedian Murray Hill.


From Take Ivy, photo by Teruyoshi Hayashida.

The Guardian's Books blog has begun its "Not the Booker Prize" competition, where you can nominate a book to win England's second most coveted literary award. Read the wonderfully wry terms and conditions (all twelve of them) before you vote, but think twice before nominating yourself: 2009's winner, Rana Dasgupta, found his triumph to be "very depressing."

Random House reports that it saw a boost in profits in the first half of 2010. Thanks, Stieg Larsson!

As students make their way back to college, powerHouse Books is publishing a reprint of the 1965 cult classic Take Ivya collection of paparazzi-style photos shot on American Ivy League campuses, along with style tips by four Japanese fashion buffs. The Huffington Post has a slideshow of some of the best photos, and some good advice from the book: "Simply slipping into a pair of Bermuda shorts is no guarantee that you will look stylish. Strut in a brisk and confident way to complete your style." If you're looking for reading material to stick in the back-pocket of those Bermudas, try one of these campus novels, but literary sartorialists take note: It is impossible to look as cool as Samuel Beckett in shorts

Armed with a "Typo Correction Kit" of Wite-Out, Sharpies, and crayons, editor Jeff Deck and his friend Benjamin Herson toured the U.S. correcting the vexing errors they saw on signs everywhere. (We wonder how they resisted adding an h to the Wite-Out in their kit). But are they "grammar vigilantes"? Vandals? Well, yes, to the latter charge, the pair had to plead guilty and pay a $3,000 dollar fine after fixing a historic "womens's" sign at the Grand Canyon. 

Rest up people: Tomorrow marks the beginning of the Third Annual Dzanc Books Write-a-Thon, which will take place September 2 through 5. Details are here.


On July 30, Kevin Morrissey, the managing editor of the Virginia Quarterly Reviewtook his own life. Following that, questions were raised about how the award-winning literary magazine, which is  affiliated with the University of Virginia, has been run under editor Ted Genoways. Most have questioned how the magazine spent its money, and some have debated whether Genoways was a "bully" in the workplace. But no one predicted that the small-print-run journal would cancel its winter issue and close its offices—or that it would become national news. That this is happening a month after Morrissey's death suggests that the journal's problems—financial and/or interpersonal—are still coming to light.

n+1 has started publishing a new online film review journal, N1FR, and has already gotten into a "Twitter-tussle" with New Yorker film critic Richard Brody, who takes issue with Christian Lorentzen's article "Dicking Around." Brody writes that Lorentzen "displays little imaginative sympathy for an artist whose subject is practical intelligence and mass media." The artist in question? The immortal Judd Apatow. Other highlights from the inaugural issue: Christine Smallwood on Claire Denis and Chris Fujiwara's wide-ranging essay, "To Have Done with the Contemporary Cinema."

Gregory Levey's memoir Shut Up, I'm Talking, has more than 692,000 Facebook fans, but many of them don't read books.

From Imprint, a short interview with artist Joanna Neborsky, whose Illustrated Three Line Novels: Felix Feneon is an inspired collection of twenty-eight collages that illuminate the fin-de-siecle Parisian anarchist Feneon's extremely brief news stories. Neborsky says she was drawn to the 2007 volume Novels in Three Lines, which collects more than 1,000 of Feneon's blurbs, because it is a book "about rude disaster and crummy behavior from all over France, told in an elegant, dry style. As a rule I am unable to resist things that are pessimistic and French. I bought three copies." 


John Clare

In the past couple of weeks big-name agents like Andrew Wylie and authors like Seth Godin have used e-books to challenge traditional publishing, making us protectively clutch our paperbacks. At Digital Book World, Emily Williams examines the crucial questions of copyright and contracts in the emerging battle to control the e-book future, while at The Atlantic, Tim Carmody looks back at "10 Reading Revolutions Before E-Books." The latest craze of the heady e-book era, the Kindle 3, is out now and earning rave reviews; John Naughton explains why this version of Amazon's e-reader will thrive: "Looks Don't Count for Everything."

There's no need to explain: We know you only buy Playboy for its exciting new translation of Flaubert.

The nineteenthth-century British poet John Clare was the subject of Adam Foulds's recent novel The Quickening Maze. At Slate, former poet laureate Robert Pinsky writes about the real John Clare, who grew up in extreme poverty, enjoyed a brief period of celebrity as the "peasant poet," and died in an asylum. Pinsky calls Clare a "figure both heroic and enigmatic," examines two of Clare's best-known poems, "I am" (I am—yet what I am none cares or knows"), and "The Badger," and reads them aloud (as part of Slate's great weekly poetry podcast). 

Jonathan Franzen's Freedom finally comes out tomorrow; until then we'll have to sate our anxious anticipation with books from Flavorwire's list of 10 classic tales of suburban ennui. Two of our favorites from the list: Richard Ford's The Sportswriter (the first book of his masterful Bascombe trilogy) and Music for Torching by A. M. Homes, who, Flavorwire writes, "is not afraid to show the boys up at their own game. Mentioned in the same breath as other masters of the suburban novel—including Updike, of course—Homes takes domestic drama to disquieting destinations."


A Penguin/Odyssey Editions title

Following Random House's e-book deal with Andrew Wylie earlier this week, Penguin is now negotiating with the super-agent about digital rights to books in Wylie's direct-to-Amazon Odyssey Editions. Insiders speculate that the deal with Random house nets up to 40 percent for backlist titles by Wylie's clients (a significant raise from the old 25 percent rate). According to the website The Bookseller, Wylie's DIY Odyssey imprint has been whittled down from twenty titles to seven—if negotiations with Penguin succeed, there will be only a handful of titles from his e-book gambit left.

Over at the Huffington Post, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner elaborate on their recent comments expressing anger over the clouds of fairy dust already being dumped on Jonathan Franzen's latest novel. The charge is that men—and so-called literary fiction—are catching a break in review-land. This, we think, is true. But another point: No writer can make people as angry as Jonathan Franzen does. 

On Janestown, the blog where "naval-gazing meets the cancan," Jane Harris has rounded up an eminent group of authors, editors, and critics to write about the great books they haven't finished reading. And while there are many of the expected difficult authors on the list—Pynchon, Musil, Gaddis, et al—there are also some eloquent quips about reading in general along the way; for instance, critic David Shapiro writes that "Good poets read diligently the infamous best works; great poets read what they need to grow and know," or our favorite, by novelist Jim Lewis: "I’ve read a lot of books: I don’t think I’ve finished any but the bad ones."

Tonight, Brooklyn's Greenlight bookstore is celebrating Archipelago Books, the indie-press dedicated to publishing great literature in translation, such as Norwegian author Karl O. Knausgaard's angelic novel A Time For Everything, collection of Heinrich von Kleist's eerie prose, and the journals of the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.


Alberto Caeiro da Silva, one of Fernando Pessoa's many aliases.

Rick Gekoski's article about the Man Booker Prize gives you a real sense of the importance of British literary awards—or perhaps just the self-importance of authors nominated for them. Either way, the famously malcontent author Thomas Bernhard would have a field day mocking the pompousness (though he'd probably pocket the prize money anyway).

Music fans will have the satisfaction of seeing Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards read from his forthcoming autobiography, Life, at the New York Public Library on October 29th, leaving us to wonder not just how he's survived this long, but also how he can remember enough to write a book. Jay-Z will also appear in the library's hallowed halls this fall (on November 15th) to discuss his life-story, Decoded; hopefully, the rapper unburdened himself of at least some of his "99 Problems" through the catharsis of writing a memoir.

At Publisher's Weekly, Andrew Albanese asks how Google's unsettling shift on the issue of net neutrality will affect the pending Google Books settlement. Google has joined Verizon in advocating a tiered Internet scheme (where you would pay more for "premium" content), a sharp departure from Google's former stance of supporting a free Internet, and an apparent violation of its "Don't be Evil" policy. We can only speculate, but perhaps the free Google books would feature first-draft classics such as The Appeasing of the Shrew and Darn Good Expectations, while the premium version would have only "Better Book Titles." 

From Vivian Darkbloom (Vladimir Nabokov) to Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), we love a good pen name, but our passion for pseudonyms can't match Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese author who compiled seventy-two aliases. Flavorpill looks at Pessoa's work through four of his literary personas.


Andrew Wylie, photo by Eamonn McCabe

Standoff ends: It was only a month ago that literary agent Andrew Wylie, in a challenge to publishers who resisted negotiating new terms with authors over e-book rights, announced his own e-publishing venture called Odyssey Editions and offered exclusively on Amazon twenty backlist titles ($9.99 each) by his clients, including LolitaInvisible Man, and Portnoy's Complaint. Whether Wylie's move was a bluff, a taunt, or an earnest expansion of his business, Random House wasted no time in responding, ceasing all new English-language business with the tony lit agency. This was undoubtedly uncomfortable for both parties, and yesterday Wylie and Random House CEO Markus Dohle released this joint statement:

We are pleased to announce that The Wylie Agency and Random House have resolved our differences over the disputed Random House titles which have been included in the Odyssey Editions e-book publishing program. These titles are being removed from that program and taken off-sale. We have agreed that Random House shall be the exclusive e-book publisher of these titles for those territories in which Random House U.S. controls their rights. The titles soon will be available for sale on a non-exclusive basis through all of Random House's current e-book customers. Random House is resuming normal business relations with the Wylie Agency for English-language manuscript submissions and potential acquisitions, and we both are glad to be able to put this matter behind us.

So who conceded what? The phrase "differences over the disputed Random House titles" begs the question of just what this standoff was really about: backlist e-rights, or e-rights for new books? The answer is both, but the more pressing is of course those rights involving new business, and the publishing company's ongoing refusal to see e-books as subject to anything but traditional terms (unlike other houses). Now, Wylie has agreed to remove all but seven of its Odyssey titles from Amazon, and it's plausible that this was part of his plan all along: force the publishing giant's hand, and then shut Odyssey down. All in time for the end of summer.

Via Bookslut: Chauncey Mabe casts a cool eye on Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult's charge that the New York Times favors white men like Jonathan Franzen. Mabe explains that the Times actually trashed Franzen's last book. But his point that Picoult and Weiner should be happy with popularity (but not critical accolades) is intriguing: Isn't mass popularity one of the things Franzen rejected during the Oprah Winfrey debacle? Discuss.

In a new book review video, the Washington Post's Ron Charles delivers a parody of "hip" literary culture. It's kind of funny, but also a parody of how clueless book reviewers can be

The New Yorker Festival, which will take place between October 1st and 3rd, has started announcing its 2010 roster, which includes Stephen King (talking about the ongoing vampire craze), music critic Alex Ross (on bass lines), actor Patricia Clarkson, and filmmaker Werner Herzog. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Book Festival continues to build its stellar list of events: Sarah Silverman, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Joshua Clover, Matthew Sharpe, and Rob Sheffield DJing at the Bell House.   


John Ashbery

As the rave reviews of Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom, pour in ("Masterpiece of American fiction," "Novel of the Century," etc.) and the backlash begins (though you can't buy the book yet), Lorin Stein blogs at The Atlantic about what it means for the future of literary fiction (and the companies that publish it). Stein knows the territory well; he worked for Franzen's publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, for more than a decade before decamping to the Paris Review a few months agoHe writes: "In my 12 years at FSG, we saw publishers lose millions every season trying to corner the market on the Big New (preferably Young) Literary Sensation. Meanwhile really tricky, idiosyncratic writers—Lydia Davis, Denis Johnson, Elif Batuman, Richard Price, Sam Lipsyte, Roberto Bolano, James Wood, Hans Keilson—confounded even the most charitable expectations of the chains. . . . Now Franzen seems poised to do the same thing on a much, much bigger scale." 

This year's Brooklyn Book Festival events have begun to be announced; among the many highlights is a celebration honoring poet John Ashbery, who has won the fest's annual "BoBi" award, and who will appear on Sunday, September 12th in conversation with Paul Auster.

The Independent asks "when did we start reading so much popular philosophy?" From the veteran Alain de Botton, to the sleeper hit Philosophy Bites, from the columns of Julian Baggini, to a new series published by Wiley-Blackwell called "Philosophy for Everyone," it seems the love of wisdom is getting some love back. 

The legendary indie-rock label Touch and Go began as a fanzine in Lansing, Michigan in 1979, covering hardcore punk bands like Black Flag, Minor Threat, and Die Kruzen. The complete set of Touch and Go's xeroxed screeds, rants, and raves have been collected in a five-hundred-plus page bookTonight at powerHouse Arena there's a celebration of '80s hardcore with a dual book launch (Touch and Go and Why Be Something You're Not: Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985), signing, and a video screening.


“Buying literature has become cool again," proclaims Paul Levinson, a communications professor at Fordham, in a New York Times article about how e-readers are shattering the stigma of being a bookworm. A recent iPad buyer agrees: “It’s almost like having a new baby . . . people approach me and ask to see it, to touch it, how much I like it. That rarely happens with dead-tree books.”

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