When J. M. Coetzee is smiling, the whole world smiles with him.

Vladimir Nabokov's writing career got its start while he was exiled in Berlin during the 1920s and '30s, when he "described how Berlin's 300,000 Russian émigrés endured life after the Bolshevik Revolution." Lesley Chamberlain parses the "artistically formative" years the great writer spent in the German capital. 

Final Cut: With the rise of multimedia in e-books and the ubiquity of tablet readers, will book editors become video editors?

At an apparently slow news day at The Guardian, the paper reports that the usually dour J. M. Coetzee cracked a smile at a recent writers' conference. "It was, admittedly, a brief smile."

Tonight at Brooklyn's BookCourt, Rick Moody reads from his forthcoming novel, The Four Fingers of Death, an epic about a disembodied arm (missing its middle finger), a doomed mission to Mars, and a lovelorn chimp. Reviewing Moody's latest in the summer issue of Bookforum (on newsstands now), James Gibbons writes that it is "here, in the intersection of narrative excess and genuine feeling, that Moody is at his most daring and arresting."


Ben Sonnenberg's window, from Matteo Pericoli's The City Out My Window

On the Paris Review blog, Lorin Stein pays tribute to the influential editor of Grand Street, Ben Sonnenberg, who passed away last week at age 73. Stein writes "Although Grand Street may never have had more than a few thousand subscribers, it was one of the great literary magazines of our time," and posts an excerpt from Matteo Pericoli's recent book of New York City views featuring Sonnenberg, who describes the vantage from his window with typical eloquence: "Fortunately for my wife and me, the modern buildings of Donald Trump, with their ugly fenestration and hostile immensity, figure only in the distance. The glory of our view is the lordly, moody Hudson River, much reduced here in the middle-right. For the twenty-seven years of our marriage this has afforded us sunsets that on some days are spectacular, on others merely beautiful."

Writer Elena Schilder went to a reading at McNally Jackson Books curious about Keith Gessen's looks, but became more interested in Elif Batuman as the night went on.

If you are lucky enough to get a copy of New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als's new self-published book, Justin Bond/Jackie Curtis, you'll find a slim, sharply designed, and engrossing text and photo tribute to the titular characters: drag performer Bond and Warhol superstar Curtis. Tactile and elegant, the book's fine design, confiding prose, and alluring photographs invite intimate engagement. Als starts each paragraph of the introductory essay with the refrain "It's the queers who made me," until the last graph, which pivots into "It's my queerness that made me," before invoking an emblematic memory of Curtis walking up Bank Street. Als's portraits of Bond aptly call to mind the aesthetic of Nan Goldin's photos—though with a more cheerful atmosphere—and are interspersed with archival stills of Curtis. Overall, it's an impressive mix of revelation and artistry, and with any luck, a book that will not slip into the privileged oblivion of the limited edition collector's item.


Feed Magazine co-founder Stefanie Syman

The early work of web stars such as Ana Marie Cox and Josh Marshall, novelist Sam Lipsyte, music critic Alex Ross, and Bookforum co-editor Chris Lehmann, as well as many others, has been put online at the Feed Magazine archives, an online webzine launched fifteen years ago by Steven Johnson and Stefanie Syman that ran through 2001.

The New Yorker's "20 Under 40" writers to watch list has been one of the biggest stories of the summer so far, but half the fun of the list is arguing about it. The latest counter-list comes from Dzanc books, who have polled "nearly 100 independent publishers, agents, editors, bloggers and reviewers," for their alternate list, but as Robert McCrum writes in The Observer "Leaving aside the taxonomic difficulties of cramming the next generation into a straitjacket, there are larger issues here . . . The onset of middle age, or the approach of oblivion, is perhaps as sharp a spur to literary effort as the intoxicating self-belief of youth."

Amazon has upgraded their e-books so that audio and video content is now playable on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, leaving the Kindle looking a bit obsolete, even as its price has been slashed to $189, and with Amazon offering refunds to Kindle's early adopters. Meanwhile, Moleskine, the hip notebook favored by every would-be author since Hemingway, has introduced a Kindle cover that allows you to scribble notes as you download books—or as you wait in line for your new iPhone.


Susan Orlean

On Tuesday, Susan Orlean posted a piece on her New Yorker blog about the publishing world, in which she identified everyone involved by letter instead of name (e.g. Editor A, Publisher W). The Observer thinks it has solved the puzzle, but is there a letter—or a number—missing?

The Authors Guild versus Google case continues to drag on, more than five years since it began, and four months since a final settlement was supposed to be reached. With so much time on their hands, the litigants may find diversion—if not solace—in reading Bleak House, available for free—and in full—on Google Books.

Abraham Lincoln was a gifted poet. At Slate, Robert Pinsky analyzes Lincoln's "My Childhood-Home I See Again." 

Tony Judt, a writer and scholar suffering from ALS, is "fast losing control of words even as my relationship with the world has been reduced to them . . . Though I am now more sympathetic to those constrained to silence I remain contemptuous of garbled language." In this essay on words, he recalls his early memories of listening to his relatives' articulate talk, laments the garbled professionalism of academic writing, and notes his children’s observation that today "people talk like texts." But Judt doesn't see language slipping into Orwellian newspeak, rather he worries over what he calls nospeak: "we speak and write badly because we don’t feel confident in what we think and are reluctant to assert it unambiguously."


Reagan Arthur

Follow the adventures of Reagan Arthur, Book Editor, on the Paris Review blog's Culture Diary. In the first installment of the ongoing journal, Arthur travels to Toronto, meets George Pelecanos, and then at 4:30, after reading some manuscripts, takes a well-deserved nap.

In Paris, the Shakespeare and Company festival drew about six-thousand people to a tent near Notre Dame last weekend to talk about "Storytelling and Politics," but all anyone really wanted to talk about was soccer, Lauren Elkin reports. Still, there was some literary chat—Martin Amis calling himself a “millenarian feminist” was perhaps the festival's most memorable quote.

Judging books and their covers: Sorting through more than eight-hundred entries, the design group AIGA has selected the winners of their 50 Books/50 Covers competition, choosing fifty outstanding covers and fifty beautifully designed books (Nabokov's Original of Laura, designed by Chip Kidd, took home honors in both categories, which seems to be the only thing that critics liked about the book). What's striking about the selections—apart from AIGA's predilection for retro and minimalist design—is the many independent publishers who made the cut; Tin House's striking cover for the novel Nov. 22, 1963, Melville House's searing one for The Blindfold Test, and Mark Batty Publisher’s prize for the book design of DIY Album Art, among others.


Tom Bissell

Tom Bissell's new book Extra Lives is a treatise on the cultural significance of video games; though Bissell likens gaming to drug addiction, his cocaine turns out to be reviewer Dwight Garner's Ambien.

The blogging platform WordPress is "the 21st-century equivalent of Gutenberg’s printing press," making media stars out of writers like Justin Halpern, who tweeted and blogged his way to the top of the bestseller list from his parent's home, the latest in a string of blog-to-book deals

It isn't "the internet that threatens little magazines and journals . . . it's the waning of communities of readers," writes Overland editor Jeff Sparrow. So, what is the future for literary journals in an online world? One person to ask is Clay Shirky, who Publisher's Weekly calls "one of the digital age’s great thinkers." 

Online book clubs have been sprouting up all over the place this summer, and now The Rumpus is getting in on the act. The website is offering participants advance reader copies of forthcoming books for a small subscription fee, choosing Doug Dorst's The Surf Guru as their July pick, proving what the sages at the New York Times Business page have pronounced: "Yes, People Still Read, but now It's Social."

“Though the [scholarly] presses admit that many of them don't quite know what they're doing when it comes to e-books,” Jennifer Howard writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "they also know they've got to experiment."


Henry Roth

An American gripe: We've asked Henry Roth biographer Steven Kellman to comment on the recent articles in Slate and Harper's that object to the posthumous edits exacted by Willing Davidson on Roth's trove of archived manuscript pages (known as “Batch II”). In an email interview, Kellman, who reviewed An American Type for Bookforum, writes: 

“At Slate, Judith Shulevitz complains that An American Type reads too much like a New Yorker writer . . . The truth is that Roth was a New Yorker writer, not simply because two sections from Batch II appeared in the magazine in 2006 or because Willing Davidson, who edited An American Type, was an editor there. Four Roth stories appeared in The New Yorker while its author still lived.”

“In Harper's (registration required) Joshua Cohen perpetuates the myth of [Roth as] a Rip Van Winkle who suffered from 'a wasting mogigraphia lasting more than sixty years.' However, soon after Call It Sleep, Roth signed with Maxwell Perkins to write another novel. Though he produced scarcely one hundred pages of it, he continued writing steadily even after cremating some manuscripts. During the 'silent' decades, he published in the New YorkerCoronetCommentary, and The Atlantic.

“Attacking the narrative economy that Davidson, who added nothing, wrested from the mass of Batch II, [Cohen] the author of the novel Witzan 800-page labyrinth of densely packed prose, is conducting an argument with himself. Almost every manuscript—posthumous or not—undergoes some editorial ministration before appearing in print. 'Writers must publish and perish,' Cohen concludes, without acknowledging immortality as a motive for much art. 'Manuscripts don’t burn,' wrote Mikhail Bulgakov, whose novel The Master and Margarita was, like Emily Dickinson’s poetry, and Kafka's The Trial (and many others), published posthumously, to commence a glorious afterlife.”


The New York Times has been granted access to John Updike's archives. Among its many revelations is a letter that the nineteen-year-old Updike wrote to his parents: “We do not need men like Proust and Joyce; men like this are a luxury, an added fillip that an abundant culture can produce only after the more basic literary need has been filled. . . . We need great artists who are willing to accept restrictions, and who love their environments with such vitality that they can produce an epic out of the Protestant ethic.” The Times fawningly characterizes it as “a prescient formulation of what he would later achieve,” yet the real delight here is in seeing how Updike early on defined himself against the previous generation—high modernism—and thus staked out his literary territory (which will be thoroughly explored at the inaugural John Updike Conference, to be held this fall). However, as the Times writes, “at the time Updike’s work consisted mainly of cartoons and lighthearted prose and poetry he poured into The Harvard Lampoon, the campus humor magazine,” filling its pages with finely-turned fillips before moving on to write his Protestant Pennsylvanian epics, and the classic New Yorker stories that inspired twenty-eight-year-old Nicholson Baker to write this 1985 fan letter.

Gerbrand Bakker

Dutch writer Gerbrand Bakker has won the 2010 IMPAC prize for his debut novel, The Twin, published in the US by Brooklyn's Archipelago Books. Now that this season's awarding of literary laurels has concluded, catch up on all the winners at The Millions, who have updated their list of prizewinners.

Atlas Shrugged is coming soon to a theater near you, as it has finally begun shooting, but the question remains: Will it Be Worse Than the Book

In "An Author's Redemption from Ignorance," professor and author Barbara J. King sets out to explain what writers don't understand about publishing.


José Saramago

Hearing the news of José Saramago's passing today at the age of 87, we couldn't help but think of the author's playful parrying with death and immortality in his recent novel, Death With Interruptions, in which the reaper takes a vacation and causes people to live too long. As Jason Weiss wrote in his 2009 review for Bookforum, "the implications of life everlasting become evident, and the blessing begins to resemble a curse . . . [Saramago] refreshes the old trope of immortality by treating it as fertile ground for playing out his incisive variations, exploring not only our fear of death but our fear of life as well." 

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