Bertolt Brecht

British professor Stephen Parker has discovered that Bertolt Brecht probably had an undiagnosed rheumatic fever, though doctors thought Brecht was just a hypochondriac (he later died from a heart attack likely caused by the fever). Professor Parker says his discovery provides new insight into the prickly German playwright: "it affected his behavior, making him more exaggerated in his actions, and prone to over-reaction. . . . He carried the problem all his life and compensated for this underlying weakness by projecting a macho image to show himself as strong."

On Wednesday, the National Book Award will be announced. In preparation, former NBA judge Tom LeClair offers synopses of the five finalists, predicts a winner (he correctly called last year's victor, Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin), and petitions for his favorite, Karen Tei Yamashita's I Hotel, "the most ambitious in its cultural range, the most diverse in character, the most ingenious in form, and the most idiosyncratic in style."

'Tis the season for e-books: The New York Times has rounded up a band of prescient analysts who predict big sales for e-readers over the holidays. Book publishers are optimistic that that's good news for the industry, as Carolyn Reidy of Simon & Schuster cheerfully notes: "The digital will be an added plus to what looks like we’re starting to pull out of—a very lackluster market . . . That will make for a very happy year after two Christmases that have not been very happy.”

Tonight, historian Morris Dickstein and author Honor Moore will discuss John Williams's quietly devastating 1965 novel, Stoner, recently reissued by the New York Review of Books Classics. Stoner was chosen by Last Call (a history of prohibition) author Daniel Okrent as one of his favorite books in Bookforum's roundup, "2010: A Year of Reading."


Tina Brown

The long-rumored merger between Newsweek and the Daily Beast is finally official, with Tina Brown as the editor-in-chief of both publications. Brown writes of the partnership: "Working at the warp-speed of a 24/7 news operation, we now add the versatility of being able to develop ideas and investigations that require a different narrative pace suited to the medium of print." As the Observer notes, Brown's last print publication was the luckless Talk magazine, which began with a bang in 1999 before folding in 2002.

Last week, Paul Devlin at Slate pointed out some transcription errors in The Anthology of Rap, writing, "this book, with its university-press imprimatur, will be quoted from by future students and scholars, and while much of it is accurate, too much of it is not." Now, the Anthology's editors respond.

Alice Gregory's moving and thoughtful book review for n+1, "Sad as Hell," which considers Gary Shteyngart's novel Super Sad True Love Story, should be required reading in The Social Network age. Only partially about Shteyngart's book, Gregory's essay uses the novel as a backdrop for her eloquent chronicle of being young and technology addled: "I catch myself performing hideous, futuristic gestures, like that 'hilarious' moment three seconds into an intimate embrace in which I realize I’m literally rubbing my iPhone screen across his spine."

n+1's new print issue, "Self Improvement," comes out today and features an excerpt from Sheila Heti's excellent new novel, How Should a Person Be, as well responses to Freedom from n+1 editors, and much more. If you prefer "Self Improvement and instant gratification," a digital version of the issue is available now.

Tonight, Triple Canopy is hosting an event in downtown Brooklyn, featuring Joe Milutis, the author of Ether: The Nothing That Connects Everything, discussing "literary minutia," as well as Triple Canopy editor (and Bookforum freelance editor) Sam Frank reading "an adaptation of issue 10's 'Happy Moscow,' which he isn't sure how to characterize, and maybe something more he hasn't written yet but has maybe only dreamed."


Published last month, Bound to Last is a new anthology for which thirty authors pay homage to their "most cherished books." There are some excellent and in some cases deeply inspired entries: Ed Park geeks out over the Dungeon Masters Guide; Nick Flynn assembles a series of personal, melancholic fragments about Ryszard Kapuscinski's Shadow of the Sun. But the most personal essay is by artist Karen Green, the widow of David Foster Wallace. Her topic is The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, but the essay basically uses quotes from that book as a framework for her reflections about DFW's suicide—about selling the house that they shared, about describing what had happened in the house, about talking to her late husband's psychiatrist. "I was asked to contribute to this anthology because I am the widow, via hanging, of David Foster Wallace," she writes, "whose writing I enjoyed very much, but whose made-up potty humor songs on a road trip I liked even better." Green's humor is on a par with Hempel's: Her description of the gift shop at the L. A. Coroner's Office is both skewed and also, somehow, respectful of life. The piece is the most moving thing we've read about Wallace's death yet.

Jack Kerouac as a dude, from On The Bro'd.

After two decades in Gotham, indie publishing icon Soft Skull Press is heading to Berkeley. As the New York Press writes, "While it might not be the end of Soft Skull altogether, by leaving New York, the press will never be the same. After all, Soft Skull is the quintessential New York City indie press." New York Press details the imprint's history, from its early days in a Greenwich Village copy shop, publishing books like Lee Ranaldo's 1995 Road Movies, through its Downtown heyday, when a motley mix of musicians, activists, and authors hung out in its basement office and produced books like Eileen Myles's novel Cool for You. A few years ago, Soft Skull merged with Counterpoint Press, and is now decamping to Counterpoint's Bay Area offices. As the New York Press notes, "Soft Skull leaving New York makes perfect sense. After all, the New York that fostered Soft Skull—the one that made room for punk rock poets, nightclubs like Tonic and copy shops where smart, bored kids could bind books and sell them out of their East Village apartment—isn’t the New York that we live in anymore." Here's hoping that the press survives, and thrives, on sunnier shores.

Tonight at New York's Center for Fiction, the National Book Critics Circle will host a roundtable discussion on the question: "Should novelists review other people’s novels?" We predict that the short answer will be "yes," as the panelists include Roxana Robinson, Lev Grossman, and Jane Ciabattari, all of whom are both fiction writers and book reviewers.

(Line)breaking up is hard to do: On the imperfect art of poetry formatted for e-readers, the Poetry Foundation has found that small poetry publishers waver between optimism and doubt. As Copper Canyon Press's marketing director, Joseph Bednarik, says, "“Copper Canyon is all about the poem on the page, the poem in the book. . . . As a publisher, we’re excited by the possibility that e-books afford, but we need to be careful about the way poems and e-books are presented."

In the '90s the Gap memorably informed us that Jack Kerouac wore khakis, but did he wear an angled baseball cap too? A new project confirms the essential frat dude that’s at the heart of Kerouac's work, translating his classic novel into bro speak.


Spalding Gray

David Rosenthal, who left his post at Simon & Schuster last summer, has been hired by Penguin USA to lead a new imprint. According to an article at the Times, the position will generate "competition between Penguin and Simon & Schuster," as Rosenthal pursues authors he has worked with in the past, who have included Bob Dylan and Bob Woodward. The editor himself sounds prepared to mix things up. "I’m going to make lots of trouble,” he said. “They’re going to let me go after the kind of—I wouldn’t say quirky—but the peculiar stuff that I sometimes like. What they want very much is for me to be able to indulge my passions, indulge my taste.”

The University of Texas's Harry Ransom Center has been on a roll this year: After obtaining the papers of David Foster Wallace and Denis Johnson, they have now acquired the archives of author-performer Spalding Gray.

At Salon, Jonathan Lethem offers a glimpse of his new, book-length, meticulous close reading of John Carpenter's cult sci-fi classic They Live.

Among the things you'll learn from an interview Tao Lin did while on Ecstasy: He doesn't think Asperger's Syndrome exists. He is much more depressed by rejection from women than he is by rejection from the press ("Like if I’ve emailed a girl that I like a lot and they haven’t responded in a few days, I feel really bad. The New York Times and other stuff like that doesn’t affect me at all"). And carbs are worse for you than heroin is.

Roxane Gay at htmlgiant overcomes her reservations about The Paris Review: "Is The Paris Review good? Grudgingly, I must revise my previous statement. The magazine is fucking exceptional and as a contrarian know that it pains me to admit that."


Iggy Pop and Michel Houellebecq, from the Paris Review.

Polarizing French author Michel Houellebecq has won the Prix Goncourt for his fifth novel, La carte et le territoire, though the book was denounced earlier this year by Goncourt Academy member Tahar Ben Jelloun. In an interview in the most recent Paris Review, Houellebecq says of his critics: "They hate me more than I hate them. What I do reproach them for isn’t bad reviews. It is that they talk about things having nothing to do with my books . . . they caricature me so that I’ve become a symbol of so many unpleasant things—cynicism, nihilism, misogyny."

This year, the words staycation and microblogging were added to the Oxford English Dictionary, but what about the words that are on their way out? The Guardian tallies some of the terms that have fallen out of favor (aeipathy and welmish), and profiles the "lexicographical social workers" that try to rescue them.

Tech guru David Pogue diagnoses the trouble with e-readers (finally!), and offers some reassuring words: "Television didn’t kill radio as everyone expected. E-mail didn’t wipe out paper mail, either; the paperless office may never arrive. For the same reason, e-books won’t kill paper books." Do we hear a collective sigh of relief? For those who haven't heard the good news, Pogue offers some tips for more satisfying e-reading.

When Paul Harding's debut novel, Tinkers, won the Pulitzer Prize this spring, it became an indie-publishing success story: The book was published by the indie imprint Bellevue Literary Press for a reported advance of $1,000, and was the first small-press book to win the Pulitzer since 1981's A Confederacy of Dunces. If you're in Brooklyn tonight, you can see Harding read his work at BookCourt.


Nicole Krauss, photo by Joyce Ravid.

WWD details the rivalry between Hugo Lindgren, the new editor of the New York Times Magazine, and his former boss, New York magazine's Adam Moss. Lindgren asks: “Did you see this week’s issue [of New York]? They had one of our writers in there. They had pretty much our subject matter across the magazine. It’s totally good, though. What makes it good? Why are the Mets and Yankees spending so much money to put the best team out on the field? Because they don’t want to be the second best team in New York."

The New Republic is turning ninety-six years old this week, and to celebrate they're asking editors and writers to select their favorites from the TNR's archives. But why not just hold out another four years and celebrate the centennial? As TNR's Jonathan Chait writes: "by the 100th anniversary, we’ll be living under the Palin regime, where all forms of reading will have been forgotten, and we’ll all be wearing animal skins and subsisting on wild plants. So, before that happens, enjoy!"

The reader meets author encounter at a book signing is often an awkward and fleeting exchange: The author scribbles his or her name and offers some self-effacing platitudes and pleasantries, before a bookstore minder rushes the line along to the next awestruck admirer. But when blogger Bill Ryan approaches writers, book in hand, he has a different purpose in mind: He wants to be Insulted by Authors.

Behold the glamorous international extravaganza of the Not the Booker prize award ceremony.

Nicole Krauss and Cynthia Ozick are conversing tonight at the 92nd Street Y. Krauss is the author most recently of the novel Great House and Ozick just published a new fiction, Foreign Bodies, which aims to be a "photographic negative" of Henry James's book The Ambassadors, where "the plot is the same, the meaning is reversed."


Rebecca Skloot, author of Amazon's Best Book of 2010.

Slate has published Mick Jagger's rambling reaction to Keith Richards's new memoir, Life. Jagger apparently accidentally sent the typewritten, stream-of-consciousness screed to journalist Bill Wyman instead of the Stones' bassist of the same name who oversees the band's archives. Is it a prank, a parody, or the legitimate scoop of the current blog cycle? Slate isn't saying. Whatever the case, it makes for entertaining reading, as Jagger writes: "It is said of me that I act above the rest of the band and prefer the company of society swells. Would you rather have had a conversation with Warren Beatty, Andy Warhol, and Ahmet Ertegun . . . or Keith, his drug mule Tony, and the other surly nonverbal members of his merry junkie entourage?"

Did Michiko Kakutani and Liz Phair recently watch the film Avatar together, or is it simply that great minds think alike? From the lede of Phair's upcoming New York Times Sunday Book Review of Richards's Life: "He's been a global avatar of wish fulfillment for over four decades." From Kakutani's lede in last week's Books of the Times review: "Keith Richards is not only the heart and soul of the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band, he’s also the very avatar of rebellion."

Edward Champion delivers a full account of the magazine Cooks Source's alleged penchant for plagiarism.

This weekend, art book aficionados from around the world will cram into the converted classrooms of MoMA's PS1 in Queens for the New York Art Book Fair. The exposition is free, which is handy, since you'll want to spend your discretionary cash on the beautiful artist's volumes (including zines!) on display. There are also book signings and a slate of intriguing events.

Amazon's Best Books of 2010 list is topped by Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Other notables in the top twenty: To the End of the Land by David Grossman, Just Kids by Patti Smith, and The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt—as well as Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, way down at number six.


Adam Levin

We're four days into National Novel Writing Month, the annual project that encourages procrastinating would-be authors to plow ahead and pen a 50,000 word novel from scratch in thirty days (quantity over quality is the rule), and fifty-thousand words have already been spilled about the merits of participating. At Salon, Laura Miller criticizes the endeavor, writing "the last thing the world needs is more bad books," but Jacket Copy's Carolyn Kellogg disagrees, as does Ron Hogan at Beatrice, and some folks who participate in NaNoWrMo, lodging their anti-Miller complaints on their blogs and Twitter. But wait, shouldn't these folks be writing their novels? At least a novel excuse, if not an actual novel, has emerged from the debate: Writing a righteous defense of NaNoWrMo beats plodding through a rough draft any day.

An editor of the literary blog The Rumpus writes of the site's unexpected popularity: "it’s been hard not to notice that the success of the Rumpus has led to a bit of a Rumpus identity freak-out."

V. S. Naipaul's The Masque of Africa finds sir Vidia back on the continent he once declared didn't have a future, to pen what Thomas Meaney has called "a searching inquiry into Africa's past with an eye to its future," but as Giles Foden observes in the Ugandan publication The Independent, Naipaul "never writes of Africa with anything remotely approaching love." Post-colonial literature scholar E. Kim Stone answers questions about African fiction in the US today, while Rwandan author Kelvin Odoobo updates Binyavanga Wainaina's satirical essay "How to Write About Africa," noting the opportunity "to show the world the real Africa, not the one demonized by western media. James Gibbons writes in last summer's Bookforum of the continent's literary boom: "The sporadic media coverage of Africa runs a familiar gamut, broadcasting a continent in perpetual—and, it is implied, essential—peril. The challenge of African writing is to provide some new news [and] African writers have risen to the task."

Adam Levin is reading tonight at Brooklyn's BookCourt, from his new bravura 1,000 plus page debut novel, The Instructions, narrated by an oddly eloquent and knowing ten-year old revolutionary who might just be the Jewish messiah.


Stacy Schiff, photo by Sheva Fruitman

Why did indie publisher Soft Skull Press close its New York offices after seventeen years in the city? The Observer investigates.

As the debate about Amazon's sponsorship of the Best Translated Book Awards continues, the online bookselling giant has announced the first release of its new translation imprint, AmazonCrossing: Guinean author Tierno Monénembo's The King of Kahel, a novel based on the life of Olivier de Sanderval, an early colonizer of West Africa.

New York magazine has taken the iPad plunge with its new app, which integrates print content with live feeds from their blogs.

Tonight, Barnes and Noble hosts biographer Stacy Schiff, whose Cleopatra: A Life depicts the Queen of Kings.

In "E-book Readers Come of Age" the gadget blog Ars Technica sings a hymn praising the Kindle 3, with one dissonant note: "It's not all good news. The Kindle interface still feels like something that escaped from 1985 and time-traveled into the future."

Advertisement