Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson is withdrawing his imprint's books from the Best Translated Book Award (which Melville House won last year), because Amazon is now sponsoring the prize. Johnson cites the web giants's "predatory and thuggish practices,” and writes, "Taking money from Amazon is akin to the medical researchers who take money from cigarette companies."
Cultural critics fond of the long form, take note: Condensed reviews are gaining momentum. At the Huffington Post, Kimberly Brooks has introduced "Haiku Reviews," which is, we have to say, false advertising, since the reviews so far aren't true haikus, just somewhat brief. (A more accurate title would be "Fairly Short Reviews.") Meanwhile, over at the Michigan Quarterly Review, the superb poet D. A. Powell and Randall Mann have started the accurately titled "The One Sentence Review," which, as the title suggests, boils down reviews (of poetry) to a single sentence. This isn't easy, but so far it's good.
Kate Bernheimer and Maria Tatar have written an open letter requesting that the National Book Award remove its bizarre current ban on "collections and/or retellings of folk-tales, myths, and fairy-tales." With the NBA's support or not, Bernheimer has been producing a steady stream of fantastical fiction—as an author (see her new story collection Horse, Flower, Bird) and as an editor of the Fairy Tale Review and the excellent new anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me (which includes stories by Joy Williams, Brian Evenson, Chris Adrian, and others).
Bill Morris reflects on the rejection letter in the age of e-mail: "The electronic burps I’m getting today are, for the most part, shallow, cursory and absolutely useless to me as a writer. Sad but true, the rejection letter, like so many things in book publishing, is a shadow of what it used to be."
NYC author events this weekend: Zadie Smith is reading tonight at NYU; her recent collection of essays, Changing My Mind, is a critical tour-de-force, astutely critiquing E. M. Forster, Cary Grant, Kafka, Barak Obama, David Foster Wallace, and more. On Saturday, the New Museum is hosting a discussion with Eileen Myles, Renee Gladman, and Laurie Weeks on "the apparitional quality of the female figure in literary history."
David Foster Wallace and friend
The Millions links to a previously unpublished story by David Foster Wallace, which a few years ago was circulated samizdat-style and is now on Tumblr. The story, presumably from the author's forthcoming posthumous novel, The Pale King, opens with a boy who wants "to press his lips to every square inch of his body," hinting at a tragic mix of self-love and overwhelming isolation in ways that only DFW can.
Daniel Ellsberg, the man famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971 (and the subject of a recent PBS documentary, "The Most Dangerous Man in America"), has just signed a contract to write a memoir about his time working on nuclear strategy for the Defense Department. We suggest that the book be thoroughly vetted, or else it could go the way of Army intelligence officer Anthony Shaffer's Operation Dark Heart, a memoir whose first printing the Defense Department recently arranged to have pulped.
Grove/Atlantic will soon publish the book Roger Sterling was supposedly writing during the last season of Mad Men, which may outdo the gold standard for literary stocking-stuffers, 2005's philosophical treatise On Bullshit. The new tome, titled Sterling's Gold, favors the epigrammatic style you'll find in the terser passages of Nietzsche, although the comparison grinds to a halt there. A sample nugget of Sterling wisdom: "Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons and eventually they hit you in the face."
Reviewing Anne Trubek's new book A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses, Laura Miller argues that "literary pilgrimages" are worthwhile: "For some of us, [Emily Dickinson's] chamber pot is the star attraction. It tells us that Dickinson may have been incandescently brilliant and gifted, but she had to piss in a pot just like everybody else."
James Patterson joins Steig Larsson in the million-reader Kindle club.
Tonight, David Thomson, for whom writing about movies seems as natural as breathing, will discuss his authoritative (and yet still-evolving) Biographical Dictionary of Film at 192 Books. Film-geek bonus: Show up with your copy of Thomson's cult classic work of half-fiction, Suspects, in which a narrator spins increasingly embellished stories about Norma Desmond, Norman Bates, and other film characters who, set free from their frames, mingle with one another and create an alternative cinematic mythology.
In an article about his literary magazine, Electric Literature, Brooklyn-based editor Andy Hunter offers an insightful meditation on how to succeed in contemporary publishing: "People often refer to Electric Literature as an 'online magazine.' In reality, online is the only place we do not publish." The innovative publisher just released its latest app, produced with author Stephen Elliott for his excellent memoir The Adderall Diaries (film rights for Elliott's book were recently optioned by James Franco).
Elliott's Rumpus Book Club unveils its latest selections, which include Rumpus Women Volume 1 (personal essays), Harlem Is Nowhere by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, and Deux Ex Machina by Rumpus Books editor Andrew Foster Altschul.
We've heard that Barnes and Noble will unveil its new e-reader, the NookColor, today in New York. The device is a seven-inch tablet, with a color screen, which runs the Android operating system. After recent reports about shareholder strife, BN could use some good coverage, and here comes the flood.
PW announces another book of the year in its ongoing series leading up to its 2010 top ten list: The Frankies Sputino: Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual.
Tonight, the French Institute Alliance Francaise begins its Write About Now literary series, co-hosted with Bookforum and the Villa Gillet, with an event featuring American novelist Joshua Ferris (The Unnamed) and French writer Francois Beaune (Un Homme louche) discussing "Characters as Outsiders."
Keith Richards's memoir Life, for which he was paid a $7 million advance, is out, and the reviews are good. Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani—clearly a Stones fan—calls the book "electrifying." She continues: "Mr. Richards’s prose is like his guitar playing: intense, elemental, utterly distinctive and achingly, emotionally direct." At the Huffington Post, Jesse Kornbluth says Richards "serves [up his storires] like his guitar riffs—in your face, nasty, confrontational, rich, smart, and, in the end, unforgettable." (The stories include how he did drugs not to nod out, but so he could work.) Audiobook fans are in for an additional layer of intensity: It will be read/performed by Johnny Depp.
They still edit copy, don't they? Bygone Bureau takes a look at the online editing processes at The Morning News, McSweeney's, and The Awl. The Gray Lady recently profiled the latter, quoting editor Choire Sicha's advice for would-be web barons: "All it takes is some WordPress and a lot of typing. Sure, I went broke trying to start it, it trashed my life and I work all the time, but other than that, it wasn’t that hard to figure out.”
Publishers Weekly will be publishing its list of top ten books of the year on November 8th. Between now and then, editors will be blogging about some of their selections. First up: Martin Amis's The Pregnant Widow.
Tonight at the New School, Bookforum co-editor, critic, and poet Albert Mobilio will read and discuss his work with Robert Polito. Mobilio has a new book of verse, Touch Wood, forthcoming from Black Square Editions. Poet Robert Creeley praised Mobilio's first book, The Geographics, as a volume that "manages the double ground of a nightmarish surrealism and a dryly perceptive wit. It's as if Humphrey Bogart were taking a good, if final, look at what's called the world."
Tom McCarthy chats with Bookworm's Michael Silverblatt, who describes McCarthy's Booker-nominated C as a “novel that wants you, and wants itself, to know as much as possible.”
Jonathan Franzen's meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House: "delightful."
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Richard Nash's new publishing venture, Cursor, will be launched this spring with Lynne Tillman’s story collection Someday This Will Be Funny. Nash has big plans to adapt to the rapidly changing publishing industry, and they go beyond e-books: “I don’t know whether this is grandiose or insane or whatever, but I am trying to change about 18 different things at once."
Amazon has announced that the Kindle will soon allow you to lend e-books.
The Virginia Quarterly Review is blogging again after a three-month hiatus following managing editor Kevin Morrissey's suicide and a subsequent investigation into the journal's work environment and finances. According to the Review's first post, the magazine plans to be up and running again within the next few weeks. In the meantime, they've posted a new interview with Canadian author Alice Munro.
Tonight, Kwame Anthony Appiah will read from his new book, The Honor Code. In a recent interview with Bookforum, Appiah said, "The striking thing about honor killings is that you get killed for things that aren’t even under your control."
At the New Republic, Ruth Franklin weighs in on the weak Kathryn Harrison review of Lydia Davis's new translation of Madame Bovary. Unlike Harrison, Franklin actually addresses the quality of the translation, and in some ways finds Davis's approach lacking: "Faithful to a fault, even to the extent of preserving awkwardnesses and infelicities that other translators have silently smoothed out."
Rick Moody has kicked off his series of tweets about the future of publishing.
Mediabistro's GalleyCat recently joined other book review editors on a a panel to offer recommendations for how to pitch books for review. One of GalleyCat's tips: "We suggested that publicists, authors, and publishing folk consider pitching GalleyCat features instead of traditional book reviews. For example, we recently ran [a feature] about Marilyn Monroe's literary bookshelf." To put it another way, figure out how a website might cover your book without having to read it.
Ben Greenman has finally brought some class to the literary mashup genre, which until now has been dominated by Jane Austen zombie novels. In his latest book, Celebrity Chekhov, Greenman, an editor at the New Yorker, recasts the Russian master's short stories, replacing the original characters with modern famous people. In place of Ivan Yegoritch Krasnyhin, we get Eminem. And in place of General Zakusin, Greenman offers a character named Sarah Palin.
Tonight, we'll be at BookCourt to see the stellar music critic Alex Ross read from his latest essay collection, Listen to This, which, after offering a rousing argument for the importance of so-called classical music, offers inspired and tactile reflections on Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Radiohead, Bjork, Sonic Youth, Cecil Taylor, and others.
The owners of Editor and Publisher, once dubbed the "bible of the newspaper industry," have laid off the three staff members who survived the journal's sale earlier this year.
The University of Virginia has released its investigation of the Virginia Quarterly Review in the wake managing editor Kevin Morrissey's suicide this summer, and while editor Ted Genoways has been cleared of bullying charges, the report does recommend that "appropriate corrective action" be taken for Genoways's brusque managment style and his "failure . . . to follow institutional procedures in a variety of areas." As the report dryly notes: "It is sometimes difficult to define where the line gets crossed between a tough manager and an unreasonable one."
Tonight at Brooklyn's 177 Livingston, Triple Canopy is hosting a tete-a-tete between two octogenarian writing legends. In this corner: rogue CIA agent (well, that's up for debate, but see his memoir My Life in CIA), novelist, and OULIPO member Harry Mathews, who has just released his first poetry collection since 1992, The New Tourism. And in this corner: Brooklyn novelist Joseph McElroy, author of the influential 1987 novel Women and Men, who has a new collection of stories, Night Soul, forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press.
The Village Voice names Tea Obreht the "Best New York Writer Young Enough to Make You Slit Your Wrists."
Via Bookslut: The world's most expensive book ($8 million, give or take) is about to go on sale. It's an edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America. Scoff if you must, but Audubon's book inspired, in some way or another, both Lorrie Moore and Mary McCarthy. And birds, though not quite as sexy as vampires, have inspired other writers as well: Daphne du Maurier, John Ashbery, and Jonathan Franzen.
Starting today, Publishers Weekly will post thirty-three tweets by Rick Moody about the future of publishing. Hashtag: #pwmoodytweets.
James Franco just published his debut collection of short stories, Palo Alto. Is it any good? The critical deck is surely stacked against him, as Michael Lindgren writes in the Washington Post: "There is no rule that says handsome young movie stars cannot also be gifted writers, but Franco's celebrity hangs like an unspoken rebuke over every word of Palo Alto. . . even if his prose somehow turned out to be staggeringly brilliant, the critics and bloggers and readers who make up the literary establishment would rather die than admit it."
Colson Whitehead reads from his fictional guide, How to Write and the Art of Writing: Writers Write About Writing.
Ludwig Wittgenstein's work has reached a surreal terminus with WittTweets, a project that aims to convey the famously difficult philosopher's life 140 characters at a time. A recent tweet: "I very often now have the indescribable feeling as though my work was all sure to be lost entirely in some way or another."
Alain de Botton, a philosopher who has "always been interested in confronting daily life with big questions and themes," got the chance to do so when he was hired to be a writer-in-residence at Heathrow Airport. His new book, A Week at the Airport, reveals truths that heretofore have only been glimpsed, such as the poignant melancholy that attends buying cheap cigarettes, perfume, and booze: "That is why we shop at airports—duty free is an attempt to flee from our sadness at the brevity and fragility of life." Now that that's settled, what to read on the plane? Graeme Wood on how travel writing has changed for the worse: "The writer goes overseas but brings back news about a tedious inner crisis."
This year's Nobel Prize in Literature-winner Mario Vargas Llosa's new novel, The Dream of the Celt, will be published in English in 2011.
Literary legend Harry Mathews is appearing tonight at Manhattan's 192 Books. Mathews founded the short-lived literary journal Locus Solus in the sixties with the New York School poets John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler, and in 1972 became the first American member of the influential French writing group the OULIPO (workshop for potential literature); he co-edited the OULIPO's definitive English language collection. This evening, Mathews will be reading from his forthcoming book of poems, The New Tourism, his first verse collection in almost twenty years. As Gerald Howard wrote in Bookforum in 2002, reading Mathews inspires a "mood of melancholy nostalgia for a period in American fiction when the big aesthetic questions of form and meaning were up for grabs and being worked on and out by a dazzling array of talents."
HTML Giant is starting an online Literary Magazine Club, where members will read a lit mag such as the New York Tyrant and discuss. As the club's founder Roxane Gay writes, "The plethora of literary magazines actively contributing to the literary conversation are ample evidence, for me, that we have not lost the battle to other forms of entertainment. We’re very much in the fight."
Sheila Heti's new book, How Should a Person Be?, is an ardent account of a young woman's unsentimental education as a writer in the Toronto art scene. Deftly blending discursive personal essays, a novel-like narrative, and transcripts of recorded conversations (and emails), Heti's tale is witty, bawdy, intimate, and hilarious—reading her work is like spending a day with your new best friend. Heti writes, "How do you build your soul? At a certain point, I know, you have to forget about your soul and just do the work you’re required to do. To go on and on about your soul is to miss the whole point of life. I could say that with more certainty if I knew the whole point of life." (The book hasn't been published in the US yet, but you can buy one from its Canadian publisher Anansai.)
If some sociologists regard intellectuals (you know, writers, ticket-takers at the roller-derby, etc.) as a sui generis group that transcends the otherwise surly bonds of class, Gerry Howard would disagree. In his essay in the current issue of Tin House, he reminds us how working-class scribes—Raymond Carver, Ken Kesey, Dorothy Allison—mined their blue-collar backgrounds to piercing, instructive effect, even as sophisticated critics, say, in Carver’s case, celebrated his fiction for begin deliciously “squalid.” Howard expands his case to address the current literary scene: “Working-class people who pay the punishing financial price that going to college extracts these days are unlikely to be attracted to publishing. . . . which means that voices from and on behalf of the working class have that much harder a time getting read, understood, and published."
Tonight at the 92nd Street Y, V. S. Naipaul will discuss his new book, The Masque of Africa. Writing in the latest Bookforum, Thomas Meaney notes: "Naipaul may be the last writer to believe in the author's ability to capture objective truth if he concentrates hard enough. This faith opposes every strain of contemporary thinking and yet, when fanatically applied, produces the impression that Naipaul misses nothing."
Why is there so little sex in current British literature? Perhaps the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction award has scared authors off the sultry subject. Recently, the Review amended the rules to allow non-fiction into the contest, with Tony Blair's new memoir, A Journey, joining Martin Amis, Jonathan Franzen, and Ian McEwan on this year's shortlist for egregiously bad erotic prose.
In The Guardian, an exasperated Germaine Greer points out some small factual inaccuracies in Booker prize nominated novels, and is especially vexed by Tom McCarthy's C, writing, "If abstruseness is your subject—and it's hard to find any other for C—you have to get it right. . . . If a fact-checker had come to his aid, C might have won the Booker after all."