Among the many gaffes that Mitt Romney made on his recent trip to the Middle East, one in particular has raised the ire of Guns, Germs, and Steel author Jared Diamond. In a speech in Jerusalem, Romney characterized Diamond’s book as saying that “the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there.” Not so, responds Diamond in a New York Times op-ed: “That is so different from what my book actually says that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it.” Diamond ends on a particularly scathing note: If Romney is elected, will he “continue to espouse one-factor explanations for multicausal problems, and fail to understand history and the modern world?”
Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity wasn’t for sale as an e-book, so New York Times tech columnist David Pogue did what any tech-savvy Bourne fan might be tempted to do: he downloaded the book from a BitTorrent site. Then he did what most wouldn’t: He sent a $9.99 check to the publisher.
Play it as it Lays, Cassandra at the Wedding, and Another Country make The Millions’ list of burnt-out summer beach reads.
When Stephen King published his first novel, Carrie, it sold only 13,000 copies. It took Brian dePalma buying the rights, and the release of the novel in paperback, before it became a hit. All of which demonstrates, as Michelle Dean writes in an essay about the development of King’s career, that “it’s not just luck you need to have a successful literary career. It’s luck, piled on luck, piled on luck again, and around the corner, you need another sprinkling of it. That’s just the way the Fates roll.”
Why don’t publishers fact-check books? Author Michael Chorost explains at Psychology Today.
London is now home to the world’s most distracting maze. (It’s made out of 250,000 books).
Do spoilers ruin a book? Not necessarily, says a paper in the September issue of Psychological Science. While most people say that they'd rather not know how something ends, a study conducted by the psychology department at the University of California at San Diego found that people actually enjoy books and movies more when they know what's coming.
HTMLGiant presents The New York Review of Tweets—a succinct roundup of all the Twitter feeds worth paying attention to, with tag lines like this one: “If you miss dropping acid and fucking on roofs, you should follow Santino Dela. If you want to go to jail for the revolution, but, like, not leave your house, this is the feed for you.”
It’s the million-dollar question: Is R. Kelly kidding? “In his twenty-year exploration of the limits of the R. & B. sex ballad, R. Kelly has often toed the line between satiric and satyric,” Andrew Marantz writes at the New Yorker’s Page Turner blog. To get to the bottom of things, Marantz reads the rapper’s ghost-written autobiography, Soulacoaster: The Diary of Me, and notes that while the book does offer some revealing biographical details, it’s more fun for its “sublimely campy trash talk.”
Nick Ripatrazone exhorts MFA grads who don’t want to be adjunct professors to try their hand at teaching high school.
Former NBA player Dennis Rodman has authored a children’s book titled Dennis the Wild Bull, which, from the looks of it, is at least somewhat autobiographical.
Gore Vidal—the novelist, critic, political commentator, and formidable verbal jouster—has died. In a 2007 interview with Bookforum, Vidal holds forth on movies, the end of the novelist, his political career, and the influence of Montaigne on his work.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
On Monday, the New Yorker published F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1936 story “Thank You for the Light” seventy-six years after they initially rejected it. “Running it would be altogether out of the question,” one editor wrote in an internal memo at the time. “It seems to us so curious and so unlike the kind of thing we associate with him and really too fantastic.”
Bookforum contributor Natasha Vargas-Cooper talks to The Billfold about the economics of being a freelancer, why she decided to move in with her parents when she started writing professionally, and how she got into the habit of calling out employers who don’t pay her. (Read her essay on Marilyn Monroe and Norman Mailer from our Dec/Jan issue here).
HarperCollins is creating a new Christian publishing division by consolidating existing imprints Zondervan and Thomas Nelson.
In a smart and funny essay for The Millions, Shane Jones reflects on the guilt tied up with being a writer, and how a remark he once read from a woman with seven hundred cats—“I’m not crazy, what I do is crazy”—has helped him deal with it.
To truly do justice to your beach read, you should probably find a bikini that matches your book’s cover.
Confessions of a compulsive blurber: In an essay for the New York Times, A.J. Jacobs explains how he first came to blurb “memoirs, novels, comic books, children’s books, and a half-dozen book proposals” (as well as most other things that landed on his desk), and how it took an intervention from friends and editors to get him to stop.
New York, London, Tokyo, and Reykjavik have been deemed the “best cities” for a writer to live, at least according to one website that based their rankings on the number of “professional positions” available to aspiring wordsmiths, and the general number of readings and literary events.
Filmmaker Chris Marker
How GoodReads hides some bad book reviews to keep the site from degenerating into a commenter free-for-all.
Popular science writer Jonah Lehrer has resigned from his position as a staff writer at the New Yorker after confessing to having fabricating several quotes from Bob Dylan in his latest book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. Lehrer was confronted about the quotes in an email from journalist and Dylan diehard Michael Moynihan last week (who was just interviewed by the Observer about the matter) and came clean on Monday morning.
Is there any point to the word “literary?” “It seems to imply some particular formal characteristics,” Rob Horning writes at the New Inquiry, “but that implication only allows the term to serve as an alibi for the status aspirations of the people who use it.”
To celebrate William H. Gass’s birthday, John Madera has asked a number of authors to name their “50 Literary Pillars,” in the style of Gass’s own “Temple of Texts.” Contributors include Matt Bell, Paula Bomer, and Kyle Minor, among others.
Chick-fil-A, the fast-food chain that recently confirmed its financial support of religious organizations that fight gay marriage, has selected a new item to give away with children’s meals: Berenstain Bears books. The Berenstain family, which holds the copyright, has informed concerned customers to contact Chick-fil-A or the books’ publisher: HarperCollins.
HarperCollins has announced that John Ashbery’s latest poetry collection, Quick Question, will be published on December 4.
At The Millions, Ted Scheinman considers attention deficit in literature—that is, not the representation of ADD in books, but rather how short attention spans can be in the classics. The canonical example of a “jumpy, distracted” book is Tristam Shandy. In Shandy, Scheinman claims that not only is “attention deficit, for Sterne... not something to be feared in the reader—it is the basis for his process of composition.”
It’s the how-to issue of the New York Times Book Review. In this issue, Colson Whitehead explains how to write (among his tips: “Keep a dream diary”); Roger Rosenblatt lays out “how to write great” (great what, we’re not sure); Augusten Burroughs offers a primer on how to write how-tos; and in the grand tradition of M.F.K. Fisher, Kate Christensen explains how to cook a clam.
Erica Jong, Melissa Febos, and others sat down at McNally Jackson in New York last week to discuss Fifty Shades of Gray—the cult phenomenon, that is, “not its literary merit.” While panelist Ian Kerner noted that he thinks “it functions as an erotic stimulant,” Roxanne Gay had a different take. “It’s a travesty,” Gay told the audience. “But a fun travesty. I’ve never laughed harder. Every day I would just fall off the treadmill laughing.”
At the Morning News, kids around the world discuss their summer reading assignments.
Indian diplomats are turning to creative writing (and especially poetry) to relieve the stresses of their job.
There are rumors that Newsweek is about to abandon its print version and exist entirely online.
The trailer for the film adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas leaked online yesterday, and though Warner Bros. asked most blogs to take it down, critics are already weighing in. “If you've ever wanted to see [Tom] Hanks as a goateed, balding London gangster, or [Hugh] Grant as a warpainted cannibal, the chance has finally arrived,” IndieWire remarked. The film is directed by Tom Twyker, of Run Lola Run fame, and the Wachovski brothers. It will debut at the Toronto International Film Festival on October 26. Aside from Omer Fast’s take on Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, we can’t think of an adaptation we’re more excited about.
Never mind Fifty Shades of Gray: How embarrassing it is to get caught reading smutty Henry Miller books on the subway?
Starting this fall, literary magazine Granta will be available in Chinese.
If you missed the essay by one of Joshua Ferris’s former MFA classmates (and self-described “nemesis”) that complained about Ferris’s successes and the essayist’s lack thereof, you can now read it here, or just read Foster Kamer’s takedown of it at The Observer.
A new issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is out, and available for free online.
This is awesome: The Atlantic Wire’s Jen Doll pays a visit to R.L. Stine on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of Goosebumps’ launch. Relatedly, if you don’t already subscribe to R.L. Stine’s Twitter feed, you probably should.
The Man Booker Prize committee has released the longlist of this year’s finalists, twelve novels that, in the committee's description, span “goodness, madness and bewildering urban change.” Nominees include Will Self, Ned Beauman, Jeet Thayil, Deborah Levy, and Hilary Mantel, who is the only previous winner on the list. A full list of the books—as well as excerpts—is available at The Millions.
First there was HBO, now there’s Random House Television. The publisher announced on Wednesday that it’s pairing up with FremantleMedia to launch the new arm, which will “focus on creating and developing television content from Random House books.”
While other publishers are closing, Oxford University Press seems to be on the upswing. The university press topped one billion in sales last year—a ten percent increase from the year before—with particular growth in South America, South Asia, and the Middle East.
Lev Grossman reviews a book that he hates so much he won’t even name it. All he tells us is that “it’s a novel. It’s by a writer who is generally described as Great, but who I’ve always personally felt is Pretty Good When He’s Really On His Game, Which Was Like For One Book, But Generally Speaking He’s Really Not That Good At All.” (What is it? Any guesses?) Meanwhile, Jen Doll considers how book hate-reads are different from internet hate-reads, and whether anybody other than a professional reviewer would finish a book they really, really didn’t like.
All it took was a cease-and-desist letter from Jack Daniel’s to help an unknown author see his sales skyrocket. Patrick Wensink received the warning letter last week, after the whiskeymaker contacted him about changing the cover of his novel, Broken Piano for President, which does bear a striking resemblance to a certain brand of Tennessee spirits. Wensink posted the letter online, it promptly went viral, and his book soon followed. According to the New York Times, it peaked at #33 on Amazon.
Director Mira Nair’s adaptation of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, based on the 2007 novel by Mohsin Hamid, has been selected to screen out of competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
London Mayor Boris Johnson, preparing for his Olympic address
NPR is conducting a poll to name the best YA novel ever written.
The New York Times profiles the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School, a week-long program course that draws three hundred librarians, dealers, scholars, conservators, collectors, and aficionados to Charlottesville for five weeks each year. Here’s a taste of what book camp is like: “In a Hogwarts-worthy reading room on an upper floor of the university’s Alderman Library one morning, students in Advanced Descriptive Bibliography were bent over books with tape measures and mini light sabers called Zelcos, scanning the pages for watermarks, lines, and other clues that can potentially trace a given sheet back to a specific paper mold in a specific mill.” We don’t know about you, but that sounds like fun to us.
As a bonus to the book camp article, the Times also wanders into the basement of the special collections library to examine the ominously named Hinman Collator, a 450-pound machine capable of identifying subtle typographical variations that the human eye can’t.
London Mayor Boris Johnson will read a poem in Ancient Greek during a speech to the International Olympics Committee. According to Harriet, via the Guardian: “Johnson commissioned the work to be written in the style of Pindar, a Theban poet who praised athletes at the original Olympic games in ancient Greece.”
Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown (who you might remember from the contentious 2009 senate election, or alternately, from this) channels Langston Hughes in a two-and-a-half-minute-long campaign video titled “Let America be America Again,” a reference to Hughes’ 1935 poem.
A writer travels to Lake View, Illinois, to search for the inspiration behind Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby.
Angela’s Ashes, Remembrance of Things Past, Lolita, and Jaws top the Los Angeles Times’ list of books you definitely don’t want to read at the beach.
HarperCollins is taunting readers with serialized excerpts from the “enhanced e-book” edition of Michael Chabon’s forthcoming novel, Telegraph Avenue. The book—Chabon’s first in five years—is billed as “an intimate epic, a NorCal Middlemarch set to the funky beat of classic vinyl soul-jazz and pulsing with a virtuosic, pyrotechnical style all of its own.” The first serial is be available to download for free today.
At NPR, David Orr reflects on the birth of a genre—the “poetry of parenthood.”
The Millions’ in-house writing instructor offers advice on how to move from scene to scene without resorting to clumsy transitions.
The Cygnus Ensemble has composed three new compositions based on Samuel Beckett’s one-act plays “Footfalls,” “Ohio Impromptu,” and “Catastrophe.” The occasion is a new production, “Sounding Beckett,” which will be performed off-Broadway this September.
Tonight at the Fales Library at NYU, there’s a book launch and reading for Cynthia Carr’s long-awaited biography Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz. As Luc Sante writes in the new Bookforum, “Carr’s book is unimprovable as a biography—thorough, measured, beautifully written, loving but not uncritical.” For the occasion, Fales will display treasures from their David Wojnarowicz archives, such as the Rimbaud mask made famous by Wojnarowicz’s photo series, as well as other photos, artwork, and ephemera from the artist’s life.