Hilary Mantel

Simon and Schuster is going to become the first of the Big Six publishers to get into self-publishing. The house announced today that it’s working with the Indiana-based company Author Solutions Inc. to launch a new self-publishing imprint called Archway Publishing.

Why do so many great books have bad endings? It could be the need to wind down a plot, a latent conservatism. Or, as Joan Acocella speculates, it could be because the author simply is tired.

In an interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel reflects on the status of executions in sixteenth-century England (they were reserved for aristocrats), having a rare health condition that resulted in massive weight gain, and on her nonfictional approach to writing historical fiction.

Discovered in today's internet trawling: the blog of unnecessary quotation marks.

The New York Times presents its list of the one hundred most notable books of 2012.


The very, very concise Oxford English Dictionary

Peter McCarthy, a former executive for Random House and Penguin, considers the differing cultures of the two houses, and weighs the potential pitfalls of the merger.

At The Wall Street Journal, Jami Attenberg—the author of a new novel in which a woman's obesity "is tearing her family apart"—writes about food in fiction, and wonders: “When does food become more than just the thing your character is putting in her mouth?”

Did a former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary secretly remove thousands of words with foreign origins and blame the omissions on previous editors? Yes, according to another former OED editor who recently published a book on the dictionary’s evolution, and noted that 17% of “loanwords” were deleted under the tenure of editor Robert Burchfield. "This is really shocking,” Sarah Ogilvie told the Guardian. “If a word gets into the OED, it never leaves. If it becomes obsolete, we put a dagger beside it, but it never leaves."

Have you been wondering what the most expensive books of the 2012 winter book season are? Publishers Weekly rounds up the top ten, with Lawrence Schiller’s book on Marilyn Monroe leading the pack. With a $2,000 price tag, the book costs twice as much as Taschen’s reissue of Norman Mailer and Bert Stern’s book on Marilyn (which Natasha Vargas-Cooper reviewed for us last year).

At Brain Pickings, Maria Popova compares Susan Sontag’s beliefs at 14 with her beliefs at 24.

Looking to ring in the holidays with some sexual tension and discomfort? Try the Fifty Shades of Gray board game.


Maurice Sendak is not into the "bullshit of innocence."

Is Amazon quietly marking up the prices of physical books? The New York Times notes that a number of new books that were previously discounted are now being sold at list prices.

Before he died, Maurice Sendak spoke with the Believer about publishing houses, “the bullshit of innocence,” and his thoughts on e-books: “I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book. A book is a book is a book.”

Under a new pilot program, JSTOR is providing free access to all of its journals and archives to Wikipedia’s top one hundred most active editors.

Thanks to new national test standards for public schools, students are going to spend much more time reading non-fiction. Under the Common Core State Standards, which are now being implemented, fourth graders will spend roughly half their reading time on non-fiction, and for high school seniors, this number jumps to 70 percent. So teachers are starting to wonder: Are policy wonks turning schools into a staging ground for a battle between fiction against non-fiction?

Tom Bissell talks to NPR about why he’s not optimistic about the future of publishers.


George Eliot's portable writing desk

A Wikipedia entry suggests that someone knew about Petraeus's affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, as early as January 2012.

The best kind of bad sex is the kind you only have to read about. (And can laugh at without offending anybody). With that in mind, everybody should be excited about the Literary Review of London’s annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Eight finalists for the 2012 award were announced on Tuesday, with J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy noticeably absent, despite its use of phrases like “miraculously unguarded vagina.” Writers who did make the list include Ben Masters, Nancy Huston, Sam Mills, Paul Mason, and Tom Wolfe, whose Back to Blood (which Eric Benson reviewed for Bookforum.com) is full of groaners.

For more on the Bad Sex awards, Literary Review editor Jonathan Beckman explains what it’s like to read passage after passage of terrible sex writing in order to “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description...”

How many writers can you fit in a Brooklyn coffee shop? For his first feature film, A Short History of Decay, writer and filmmaker Michael Maren rounded up 43, from Jennifer Egan to Kurt Andersen to Phillip Gourevitch. The group assembled at a cafe in Park Slope (some arrived as early as 4 am) to participate in a sight gag. In the scene, Marren’s protagonist is hoping to ease the pain of losing his girlfriend to a literary agent, but can’t find a seat at the cafe—because all are occupied by snarky-looking Brooklyn writers.

Elizabeth Smart, the 14-year-old who was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City and discovered with a strange couple nine months later, will write a memoir about her experience. The book will be published by St. Martin’s Press, and is scheduled to come out in September next year.

George Eliot’s portable, papier mache writing desk has been stolen from the Nuneaton museum in England.


Imre Kertesz

Do you enjoy page-turning simulation that happens when you "flip" through a book on an e-reader? If so, we hope you own an iPad, because under a patent that was granted this week, Apple now owns the exclusive rights to that effect.

If fundraising efforts work out, a very low-budget adaptation of Tao Lin’s Shoplifting from American Apparel may be coming to a theater near you.

The San Francisco-based literary magazine McSweeney's has commissioned writer Richard Parks to write an hour-long radio drama about Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne. Well, sort of: The event will be a "continuous-play radio drama in the style of Mercury Theatre's War of the Worlds, about an imaginary tumor in the shape of a head, that happens to be growing in Wayne Coyne's leg.” In addition to the Flaming Lips, the event will feature musicians Bill Callahan, Nico Muhly, Okkervil River, Oneida, and others. It will be broadcast on Los Angeles’s KCRW on November 24 and 25 at 5 p.m. Pacific time.

Penguin is loosening its grip on digital books. Under a pilot program that will begin this year, the publishing giant—which recently merged with Random House—will start e-book lending programs with public libraries in Los Angeles and Cleveland.

The Atlantic Wire reports that 83-year-old writer, Hungarian Holocaust survivor, and Nobel Laureate Imre Kertesz is putting down his pen for good. According to a French news item translated from the Hungarian, Kertesz is retiring due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, and because he feels that he has said all he has to say about the Holocaust.

If a Life of Pi sale at the e-commerce site Gilt is any indication, filmmakers have devised a new method of getting rid of the detritus that comes with making a movie—selling it online. For $40,000, a lucky buyer can walk away with a 25-foot raft used in the movie, while signed movie posters and costume jewelry from the Yan Martel adaptation are going for less. Proceeds will be donated to charity.


TS Eliot

In the first extensive interview since he revealed that has stopped writing fiction, Philip Roth talks to the New York Times about what he’s doing with all his free time (”Every morning I study a chapter in iPhone for Dummies...”), the process of working with biographer Blake Bailey, and the Post-it note that motivates him to enjoy his retirement.

When he decided to publish his new book with Amazon, bestselling author Timothy Ferriss (The 4-Hour Body) knew that he’d have trouble getting bookstores to carry it. So, with the book coming out soon, Ferriss is taking a more unorthodox route to promote The 4-Hour Chef—a file-sharing site. According to publicity material, Ferris will release excerpts of what he believes might become “the most banned book in US history” on BitTorrent, even though the site is more often used to steal books than to promote them.

A Toronto used bookstore has devised an ingenious way to offload its dollar-bin books: A book vending machine.

Here’s the thinking behind a mommy-oriented listserv that organizes readings around Manhattan: come for the book, stay for the apartment. By holding literary events in high-end apartments, organizers hope that books will attract buyers. “Authors are selling books and the books give such value to the events,” founder Lyss Stern told the New York Times. “There is no better way to get buyers into these beautiful apartments.”

The dirtier details of TS Eliot’s life may soon be aired in the wake of his wife and executor Valerie Eliot’s death last week. While Valerie was keen to publish her husband’s letters (reviewed here by Marjorie Perloff), she was notoriously controlling about his documents, and never allowed biographers to examine them without careful supervision. Now, members of Eliot’s estate say that they’re prepared to give full access to the late poet’s papers to an official biographer. The Guardian headline gets right to business: "Secrets of TS Eliot's tragic first marriage and liaisons to be told at last."


Minna Proctor has submitted a letter to the Wall Street Journal in response to the paper's interview with her ex-husband, author Benjamin Anastas, about his new memoir, Too Good to Be True: "I am not 'okay,' as [Anastas] says, with what he wrote.... I did not approve of the project, know of the project when it was in formulation, or agree to it vis a vis its eventual impact on our young son."

Katherine Boo, author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers

The screenwriter behind Slumdog Millionaire is writing the film adaptation of Ben Fountain’s award-winning Iraq war novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The novel is about a group of American soldiers who survive a firefight in Iraq and return home to a hero’s welcome, and has been called the “Catch-22 for the Iraq War.” Also, in the New York Times, John Williams talks with Ben Fountain and The Yellow Birds author Kevin Powers about their approach to writing war novels.

Professional misogynist Tucker Max has some advice for writers looking to avoid the extra costs that can accrue through publishing houses: do it yourself. For his third book, Max decided to outsource most book-making activities to freelancers, leaving Simon & Schuster to distribute the book, and Max’s employees to take care of copyediting, design, printing, and marketing costs. He ended up tripling his revenue, but cautioned that there are only about 250 authors working today who sell well enough to pull off the same trick.

Roxanne Gay introduces Guernica’s two-part series on erotic fiction.

In honor of National Novel Writing Month, wherein participants attempt to write a novel over the course of November, the Awl’s Alex Balk has decided to share the conceit of his unfinished postmodern novel. “Here was the idea: the book would be told solely through reviews written by its protagonist. There would never be a line of dialogue. You would only be able to follow the character's development through the bio appended to each review.” Balk never completed the project—partly because he’s a “ low-on-energy, low-on-inspiration kind of guy,” and partly because of the “off-the-charts pretension and showy postmodernism-run-amuck behind the concept.” Still, it’s fun to read about.

“I suppose it ultimately depends on the book,” Henry Holt president Stephen Rubin said of the ideal relationship between biographers and their subjects. In light of the Petraeus scandal, he noted that he “would prefer if they didn’t have sex, because you lose a sense of perspective objectivity when you are romantically linked.”


After years of archival research, Lawrence Wright’s long-awaited book on Scientology will be coming out with Knopf this January. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief includes more than two hundred interviews with Scientologists, and will expand on the explosive article Wright published about the religion in the New Yorker.

College students be warned: Digital textbooks can now track whether you’re doing your reading.

“Not surprisingly, Professor Thurston J. Moore gave no final examination”: At the Poetry Foundation, Logan K. Young recalls what it was like to study at Naropa with Sonic Youth member Thurston Moore.

In the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, Janet Malcolm writes a follow-up piece to Iphigenia in Forest Hills, in which she returns to Queens to check in on the girl who was then four years old (and is now nine) when her mother was convicted of hiring a hit man to assassinate her husband.

Will the New York Public Library’s flagship building become a “glorified Starbucks”? Architectural critic Paul Goldberger considers the $300 million renovation, and what the Norman Foster redesign might mean for the library.

Terry Eagleton reviews a “superb” new biography of Jacques Derrida, in which he posits that “one reason Derrida enjoyed travelling the world so much was because it allowed him some respite from the bitchy, sectarian, backstabbing, backscratching climate of Parisian intellectual life.”

New Yorkers: Tonight (at PowerHouse Arena) and tomorrow night (at KGB Bar) the writer Lydia Millet—whose novels "touch down on ... lives at critical, transformative moments"—will read from her latest, Magnificence.


Jack Gilbert, 1925-2012

Award-winning poet Jack Gilbert, whose Collected Poems was published in March of this year, has died at the age of 87.

With a list of guests that includes not just publishers but also Molly Ringwald and DJ Rabbi Darkside, the organizers of this year's National Book Awards dinner—which will be held tonight at Cipriani Wall Street—hope "to add more sex appeal to an industry that’s not exactly known for it."

While the merger between Penguin and Random House has mostly been met with cynicism and dismay, the consolidation of big publishing might actually be good news for smaller presses, which are becoming far better equipped to publish poetry, books in translation, and literary fiction. But even so, how will indie presses ever compete against the large advances that big houses offer? One solution, Salon argues, is to instate a national policy that would help smaller presses compete in an increasingly harsh open market. (Meanwhile, business journalist Adam Davidson reflects on the Penguin-Random House merger, the fight with Amazon, and how the publishing industry resembles the envelope industry circa 1900.)

At the Paris Review blog, Julian Tepper recalls Philip Roth’s reaction upon handing Roth a copy of his novel. “Yeah, this is great," said Roth. "But I would quit while you’re ahead. Really, it’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.” Two weeks later, Roth announced his retirement from writing.

How many biographers have fallen for their subjects? “Plenty,” says Slate. “But few act on it.”

"More than most literary phenomena, names in fiction seem very straightforward until you start to think about them. The simple question, ‘why does a name sound right?’ leads to a whole range of questions. Are there rules about how names are given to characters? Do naming practices differ in different periods? Are they specific to particular genres?" Colin Burrow reviews Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature.

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