"Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company," Mark Twain quipped; we wonder who he's hobnobbing with today, the centenary of his death. Twain, a high school dropout, draft-dodger, and rascal to the last, was not just any American, he was, as he liked to say, "the American.”
From Collier's Weekly, a 1910 verse account of his last day, and from the New York Times, an absorbing display of his library, where you can peruse his acerbic marginalia. Equally cutting is Gary Indiana's take on recent books about Twain's last decade.
Twain biographer Ron Powers writes of how a chance encounter with a fourteen year-old girl named Laura Wright enchanted Twain for the rest of his life. Elsewhere, PETA details how Twain was among the first notable animal rights activists, and the San Francisco Chronicle offers a roundup of new Twain titles.
And there's Twain's autobiography to look forward to, dubbed the "blackmail dossier," and said to run at nearly 5,000 pages, it will soon be published for the first time by the University of California, now that Twain's command for a one-hundred year embargo has expired.
You will never be able to do this with a Kindle, though we invite you to try.
This year's feel good story for indie-publishing, the success of small-press book Tinkers, which had a 2000% sales bump this week after winning a Pulitzer, makes Slate's Marion Meaker feel piqued; to him it illustrates "the failure of independent bookstores and their complete loss of traction in the marketplace."
Victor Lavalle reads a piece about long-distance love from Granta's sex issue, which arrives in bookshops this week.
This airborne toxic event is giving the London Book Fair the doldrums
Ask your barista for a triple grande Balzac: the author had a "horrible, rather brutal method" for overcoming writer's block—a coffee creation so sinister that he recommended it "only to men of excessive vigor" (it eventually killed him). Elsewhere in Lapham’s Quarterly, a visual guide to the stronger stuff writers imbibed.
Cory Doctorow asks, "can you survive a benevolent dictatorship?" You'd think he was talking about politics; but, alas, it's just another iPad story. Following his recent blog post, "Why I won't buy an iPad (and think you shouldn't, either)," Doctorow warns netizens of the dangers of Apple's hardware lockdown.
If you've had you're fill of internet iPunditry, skip the online version of the New Yorker's plush iPad profile and read the print version (on newsstands now). Though the story is already cold—it is the new iPhone that's heating up the web just now—the piece deserves serious reading-lamp-and-ottoman-style attention. Then, wander back to the screen and surf over to the magazine's online book club, where at 3pm today David Vann will live-chat with readers about his buzz-worthy book Legend of a Suicide.
Writing life in New York City
Was Proust "mentally defective"? (Evelyn Waugh thought so). Baudelaire called Voltaire "the king of nincompoops," and Nabokov once wrote of Hemingway: "I read him for the first time in the early 'forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it." Compared to this compilation of writer-on-writer cracks, the press drubbing that Yann Martel has lately been enduring seems tame.
The long-vanquished Brits have a bit of fun at our first president's expense: "Founder of a nation, trouncer of the English, God-fearing family man: all in all, George Washington has enjoyed a pretty decent reputation. Until now, that is."
Publisher's Marketplace reports that Thomas Frank has just sold a book about 2010's Conservative resurgence (registration is required to read PM's brief). However, we're pretty sure the new book won't be called The Diagnosis of Small Pox, the most recently published "Thomas Frank" book available on Amazon.com, though that book's prognosis for the affected populace is probably alarmingly similar.
Adam Gopnik (quoting Updike) once compared the writing world of New York to life aboard the "Raft of the Medusa," but it can't be that bad. Consider mid-April's PEN American Center World Voices Festival, a reason to love the city this spring, as it hosts the world's best literary scribblers. If you can manage to stop scrolling through PEN's free and engrossing iPhone App, you may just meet someone you love to read.
This weekend, delve into UbuWeb's recent addition to the William Burroughs sound archives, 1965's "Call me Burroughs," as well as the audio collection of his buddy Brion Gysin's work. Just be sure you have some time on your hands; this stuff is about as addictive as the smack Burroughs preferred.
Don't make me come back there: When the New York Times's star columnists squabble, Clark Hoyt settles the score.
We'd love to curl up with Earth is a Blue Pearl, and the other classics created by author Douglas Coupland for his new project: to explain 2010 to someone in 1935, by inventing a classic Penguin book cover. And in true 2010 style, Penguin lets you play along; there are templates to create your own cover, and a gallery to see what others have made.
Next week, The London Review of Books celebrates its 30th anniversary in New York, with events including Tariq Ali on "Obama's War," Jacqueline Rose on the Dreyfus affair, and a panel on "The Author in the Age of the Internet;" featuring John Lanchester, Andrew O’Hagan, Colm Tóibín, Mary-Kay Wilmers and James Wood.
Timothy McSweeney has been invited to the Salon.
Why is good erotic writing so hard to pull off? It's icky, funny, or at best, boring. The Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award always gets a lot of play (see this year's winner), but Canadian novelist Russel Smith thinks it's "a mean-spirited exercise in playground mockery and repression." And speaking of bad sex: Granta, we need to talk about this cover.
I like f'ing (filing, that is): New York University's Fales Library has started a Riot Grrrl collection, preserving the history of the fierce feminist movement—and it goes way beyond zines. Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna has donated a trove of photos, set lists, art, and zine flats, because, she says, "I am horribly nervous about feminist erasure." Hanna's materials will share shelf space with other grrrls, and with downtown artists and writers such as David Wojnarowicz and Richard Hell, as well as tweedier bedfellows from 18th and 19th century English literature.
The Atlantic's fiction issue is out now, among the many must-reads is a conversation with Paul Theroux on "Fiction in the Age of E-books."
What Cheever was to commuter country, Deborah Eisenberg is to Manhattan malaise. Her underrated short stories are a veritable taxonomy of urban dysfunction. Tonight, she reads from her new volume, Collected Stories, at Chelsea's 192 Books. Cult-celebrity spotters should scan the audience for her longtime partner, Wallace Shawn, who lately has been stealing scenes in contemporary drama's most gripping panorama of unhappy uptowners, Gossip Girl.
It is National Library Week, and the gray lady wants you to pipe down: "when did libraries become a cacophonous combination of cafe, video store, music store, computer lab, and playground?" At Lapham's Quarterly Colin Dickey muses On Bones and Libraries: "Every librarian, every book collector, finds him or herself between . . . two mythical places—the Perfect Library of God and the Infinite Library of Babel, the one transcribed by Jerome, the other by Borges;" for bookworms stuck elsewhere, here's the Huffington Post's slide show of America's Most Amazing Libraries.
Cuban blogger Yaoni Sanchez's book, Cuba Libre, was confiscated because, as the authorities wrote, "Physical inspection of the package found documents whose content goes against the general interests of the nation." Western readers can see what that means early next year, when Melville House publishes an English-language version of her work.
Pulitizer Prize winner Paul Harding is trying very hard not to say "I told you so."
The giddy highs and woeful lows of a quarter-century of punk publishing, as seen by Jennifer Joseph of Manic D Press.
How do you like your canon served, and how do you pick up the check? That's the central question behind Open Letter publisher Chad Post's peeved reaction to Newsweek writer Malcolm Jones's critique of the Library of America. Jones asks if the LOA has "jumped the shark," because they devote volumes to the likes of Philip K. Dick and (special Newsweek shudder of disapproval) Shirley Jackson. Does Jones think that those handsome volumes of Melville and Wharton arrive from the book fairy? They're likely funded by the first Dick collection—the LOA's fastest-selling volume—because, as Post says, "a lot of readers are sick of the predictable and unchangeable American Canon.'"
Bookforum favorite Rae Armantrout's Versed has won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, while Paul Harding's Tinkers has won the fiction prize. Harding's novel was missed by many this year; the New York Times calls it "the one that got away," though Tinkers got brief mentions in the LA Times and the New Yorker, and a lengthier review in the Boston Globe and one in web zine The Quarterly Conversation. Powell's Books in Portland picked up the novel early on, releasing a special edition, and interviewing Harding, who says, "I didn't think the book would ever get published."
"First come, first saved." As extremist groups thrive in America, author Shalom Auslander gets uneasy laughs at Tablet by imagining hiding in an attic sanctuary; it ain't easy to find a crawl space roomy enough to accommodate his wife, two young children, and two large dogs.