Tonight at Brooklyn's BookCourt bookstore, David Mitchell reads from his new novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, reviewed in the latest issue of Bookforum by William Deresiewicz, who writes that after the pyrotechnics of Mitchell's first four novels, "The wunderkind—forty-one by now—is ripening, it seems, into a middle period of subtler effects and sustained emotions."
James Franco as poet Allen Ginsberg (Photo Credit: Sundance Film Festival 2010).
Former poet laureate Billy Collins dislikes the havoc that is wreaked on poems when they are converted to ebooks: "The critical difference between prose and poetry is that prose is kind of like water and will become the shape of any vessel you pour it into to. Poetry is like a piece of sculpture and can easily break."
Allen Ginsberg wasn't shy about promoting "Howl" as “an all-purpose cultural barometer,” as John Palatella observed in Bookforum in 2006, the fiftieth anniversary of the book's publication. In 1967, when asked if his poems would survive, Ginsberg told a packed Berkeley lecture hall that they "may be valuable as like big important historical documents," saying, "there are some pretty things in them." Well, pretty things doth Hollywood love: Witness heartthrob James Franco don glasses to channel the scruffy poet in the trailer for the forthcoming bio-pic Howl.
George Szpiro, author of Numbers Rule, a new book about the nettlesome laws that determine how Congressional seats are apportioned, has a strikingly simple solution: send fractional congresspeople to the Capitol.
Luxury publishers such as Kraken Opus and Taschen are releasing lavish editions with goodies like moon rocks, a signed Jeff Koons photograph of Muhammad Ali, or even the blood of cricket star Sachin Tendulkar, which was mixed into the signature page of a forthcoming $75,000 limited edition biography.
The website I Write Like will analyze your prose and tell you if it resembles H. P. Lovecraft, Vladimir Nabokov, Dan Brown, or one of the other forty famous writers in its database. Margaret Atwood gave it a try and found she didn't write like herself; rather, the database pegged her as Stephen King. We can only imagine Nabokov's incredulity at being told by a computer that someone else writes like him, or worse, that he wrote like anyone else (especially Stephen King).
On the Critical Flame blog, Daniel E. Pritchard writes that Internet book reviews can shrug off the old formula used in print publications. Considering a new anthology of Open Letters Monthly's online reviews (now in book form), Pritchard writes that the best ones "[eschew] the well-trodden path—the hook, the book, the author and themes, the pithy conclusion—the superior essays [in the collection] lead readers wherever interest and curiosity dictate."
Today is the day for One Day by David Nicholls, the surprise bestseller that takes place on twenty consecutive July 15ths, perhaps a day best spent reading Nicholls’s tome in one of New York's last silent places.
Jon Thurber has been named the new Book Review editor at the Los Angeles Times. Thurber (no relations to James) is a thirty-eight year veteran of the paper, and will take charge of all aspects of book coverage, including the online book section, the Jacket Copy blog, and the print book reviews and features. He has filled many roles during his time at the paper and is perhaps best known for his recent tenure as obit editor, which lasted for 11 years and produced many hundreds of articles under Thurber's own byline. Here's hoping he isn't called on to pen one more . . . about the death of the print book review.
In a newly published Mark Twain essay, "Concerning the Interview," Twain takes the satiric stance that he was no fan of being interviewed (though we're pretty sure he actually loved it, being a born raconteur and all). Twain compares the interviewer to a cyclone, and quips "interviewers are courteous and gentle-mannered, even when they come to destroy." So what would he make of today's earnest, fan-boy/girl interviews thriving on blogs like Bookslut, which recently posted engaging chats with fiction writer Justin Taylor and 2010's Pulitzer Prize winning poet Rae Armantrout, among others?
Mary Karr, who recently complained in the New York Times about the "humiliating" book trailer video she made for her new memoir, Lit, is meanwhile embracing the medium with "Poetry Fix" on YouTube, where she uploads videos of herself and friends reading poetry twice a week.
At the Paris Review blog's, Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, begins a five-part account of seeing the twelve-hour staging of Dostoyevsky's Demons last weekend on Governor's Island in New York. As the play begins, Batuman writes, director Peter Stein assures the audience that "he wants us to 'feel well,' so there are lots of breaks and two meals and 'quite nice toilets.' I think it’s an exaggeration to say that the toilets are quite nice."
Splendid Americans: Harvey Pekar and Tuli Kupferberg—a pair of radical nonconformists whose literary output was perhaps a mere by-product of their grander refusal to fit in—both passed away yesterday. Pekar's death at the age of 70 put us in mind of his most famous public exit—his last appearance on the David Letterman show in 1988, when he ranted at an exasperated Letterman, ending his tenure as a late-80s regular on the show. Pekar also made an appearance in the pages of Bookforum in 2003. Reviewing Peter Kuper's graphic adaptation of Kafka's tale of self-recrimination, "Metamorphosis," he wrote that the book was "no match for the original yet offers the eye pleasures galore." Kupferberg was a poet and performer who began as a Beat, played in the legendary proto-punk band The Fugs, and became an all-star bohemian and prolific YouTube denizen before he died at the age of 86.
The Awl sifts through the history of the term "slush pile," and the findings are slushy—it’s a phrase "loaded with numerous shady insinuations."
A look at Granta magazine, from its days as a Cambridge University student publication, through its relaunch as a paperback sized lit magazine in 1979, to its latest issue. Also, a chat with artistic director Michael Salu about designing the new issue's cover, on the theme "Going Back." It's a fitting topic for a magazine that is currently digitizing its archives; for those worried that something will be lost in the transition, Granta's Ted Hodgkinson writes, "Pixels do not sully a finely sculpted phrase, they simply illuminate it. The gift of digitization, in fact, is that for the first time ever it is possible to view the entire sweep of Granta’s history in a few clicks."
Zizou nostalgia: With no World Cup left to watch, Paris blogger Lauren Elkin remembers the 2006 World Cup, when French soccer star Zinedine Zidane headbutted an opponent, inspiring Jean-Pierre Toussaint's story "The Melancholy of Zidane."
Writer Mary Karr says making a book trailer, often a required part of an author's publicity tour of duty, “is, in a word, humiliating.” We've been underwhelmed by most of the quick, awkward videos (John Wray's funny recent trailer for his novel Lowboy, featuring Zach Galifianakis, being an exception) we’ve seen, until now: Behold, the trailer for Gary Shteyngart's forthcoming novel Super Sad True Love Story.
"You are not supposed to point out that Nazi inspirations have visibly taken root among present-day Islamists," writes Paul Berman, as he takes on critics of his polemic The Flight of the Intellectuals.
Novelist Denis Johnson's papers have been acquired by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Johnson, a part-time resident of the city, will have his working materials enshrined in the archives that recently acquired David Foster Wallace’s papers, adding to the Center's extraordinarily rich collection. Meanwhile, New Republic editor Ruth Franklin questions the value of author archives, writing: "What’s missing is the alchemy that takes an assortment of random objects and transforms them into a work of art. And that process leaves no trace."
As the fiftieth anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird's publication is celebrated this weekend, Harper Lee once again has found the spotlight. Meanwhile, her classic novel about the Jim Crow South has sold over thirty million copies, and continues to be patronized. Last year, Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article ("The Courthouse Ring") and more recently, Allen Barra’s Wall Street Journal piece ("What 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Isn't"), criticized the book for what is perceived as its mild-mannered liberalism. We’ve asked Nicolaus Mills, author of The Crowd in American Literature and Like a Holy Crusade: Mississippi 1964—The Turning of the Civil Rights Movement in America, and a professor of literature and American studies at Sarah Lawrence College, to answer the book’s critics:
Q. How do you respond to Allen Barra’s claim that Mockingbird isn’t great literature, because it lacks "ambiguity,” presents “a sugar-coated myth of Alabama’s past,” and offers readers a dated “bloodless liberal humanism”?
A. Barra ignores the tension between what Scout Finch, the narrator of Mockingbird, sees as a nine-year-old and what the text of Mockingbird reveals. Atticus, her beloved father, is a complex and ambiguous figure. A devoted parent, he is often distant from his children. He fights racism but deals civilly with his racist neighbors. He believes in the law, but at the end of Mockingbird he circumvents it to help his reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley, avoid a devastating trial. As for Mockingbird sugarcoating Alabama’s racial history and offering the reader a bloodless liberalism, I would point to the fact that at the center of Mockingbird is a trial in which a black defendant is unjustly convicted of rape and a liberal white lawyer defies a lynch mob.
Q. Flannery O’Connor famously called Mockingbird a “children’s book.” Is it fair to say that Mockingbird is most suited these days to adolescents?
A. O’Connor’s charge echoes the kind of criticism that has been used against The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye. What she ignores is that tragedy is at the heart of Mockingbird. Tom Robinson goes to prison and, believing Atticus will be unable to free him on appeal, dies trying to escape. Compare Lee’s ending to the conclusion of Huckleberry Finn, in which Jim is set free by Miss Watson in her will because she is ashamed of once having thought about selling him down the river.
Q. Malcolm Gladwell suggests that Atticus is “a good Jim Crow liberal,” who encourages the jurors at Tom Robinson’s trial to “swap one of their prejudices for another.”
A. Gladwell doesn’t bother looking closely at the text of Mockingbird when he offers his harshest criticisms. Atticus does say that Mayella Ewell, the supposed rape victim of Tom Robinson, was the sexual aggressor. But Atticus never condemns her for her sexuality. On the contrary, he blames Southern prejudice for putting her in a position in which she feels she must lie: “She has committed no crime, she has merely broken a rigid and time-honored code of our society.”
Q. What, if anything, do you make of Harper Lee’s silence all these years?
A. It strikes me as the silence of a modest woman, who doesn’t like the limelight and feels no need for self-promotion. It is too bad more writers can’t live by the same set of values.
A. L. Kennedy
iTunes has made album cover art all but obsolete—could book cover design be next? The Casual Optimist blog doesn't think so—it provides edifying links, interviews, and highlights of the best cover art—all dedicated to the idea that cover design is vital to the book trade. Novelist A. L. Kennedy writes that "these days authors are also judged by their covers." As writers make the rounds of author appearances, TV interviews, and publicity photo shoots, their looks sometimes seem almost as important as their books. As Kennedy notes, this can be a source of author anxiety: "As age and gravity assert themselves, my incipient goatee becomes luxuriant and my teeth remain as equine as ever, I can be sure that matters will only deteriorate. This should have very little to do with me, or my job—but it does."
From Vivian Gornick and Joan Didion to Emily Gould and Sloane Crosley. Are these last two women part of a new generation of memoirists, chronicling "a brave new female world," or the continuation of a trend in premature autobiography?
By now, you should be making good progress on your summer reading list. If you've yet to make headway, maybe you just need different books. The Millions has some suggestions, as does Maggie Fergusson at The Economists's More Intelligent Life site, while The Second Pass looks ahead to fall. And, if you're searching for like-minded readers, GalleyCat has collected a selection of Book Club Resources on Twitter.
William Golding may have had good reasons to write the dystopic Lord of the Flies; John Carey's new biography of the unhappy novelist reveals some of the indignities he had to endure, including this Navy mishap: Golding once "caused an explosion in his pants by placing bomb detonators and a battery in the same pocket."
Emily Gould continues her critique of her former employer, Gawker Media, writing that sites like Jezebel "tap into the market force of . . . 'outrage world,'" turning women against one another for the sake of the almighty Pageview. Meanwhile, the big-picture thinkers at Ad Age describe how its readers must contend with the Gawker-dominated media landscape: "The former playground bullies of the blog world have gone national, even global, and Establishment media players and marketers have no choice but to reckon with them."
Tonight at Manhattan's McNallyJackson Books, comedian, artist, and author Damali Ayo conjures a magical world without racism, Obamistan, offering a tongue-in-cheek guide to the topsy-turvy world of "post-racial" America.
Blurb busters: Nicole Krauss really loved fellow novelist David Grossman's forthcoming To the End of the Land, writing of the novel, "To read it is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being." Bloggers at the Conversational Reading ("The Painfully Wrought Blurb,") MobyLives ("sometimes, a blurb can kill you,") and Bookninja ("When Blurbs Bite,") are all crying foul over Krauss's "overwritten" praise, while The Guardian asks readers: Can you outblurb Krauss? Perhaps Paul Auster already has: "Flaubert created his Emma, Tolstoy made his Anna, and now we have Grossman's Ora . . . I devoured this long novel in a feverish trance. Wrenching, beautiful, unforgettable."
A new study has found that people read slowly on tablets like the Kindle and iPad, compared to traditional print—a surprising conclusion—while also confirming what we already know: reading books on a PC monitor is a "miserable experience." Meanwhile, Slate offers a Bold Prediction: e-books will never replace real books.
The Association of American University Presses (AAUP) 2010 conference is on, with participants mulling over questions like: How did University Presses do this year? What Makes a Good Book? After a relatively rough year, director of Georgetown University Press Richard Brown puts things into perspective: "It's not crisis . . . It's perpetual transition. That's what we're in, and we'll be in it for the rest of our lives."