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."