Pankaj Mishra tells the New York Times about the time more than thirty years ago when he heard about a local library preparing to sell back issues of the New York Review of Books as waste paper. “I convinced a friend of mine who was a student to pose as a paper recycler,” Mishra reflected. “He put in a very high bid and brought a whole bunch of stuff over in a rickshaw.”
What’s it like spending time with Junot Diaz? According to New York Magazine’s Boris Kachka, it’s comparable to sitting in on an “advanced literary seminar taught by a bilingual stand-up comedian working very blue.” Diaz’s excellently-titled collection This is How You Lose Her comes out this fall, but in the meantime, you should start with this.
For the past two days, a Shakespeare flashmob has been interrupting meals and surprising Londoners with impromptu song-and-dance routines. The group, led by actor Mark Rylance, includes about fifty non-professional actors between the ages of seventeen and seventy, and is intended to bring the inclusive spirit of the bard back to the people. "Theatre shouldn't really be—and it tends to be too much – white, middle-class Oxbridge types speaking in posh voices," remarked director Jonathan Moore of the project, which will run for a week throughout London.
In an impassioned essay on the New Yorker’s Page Turner blog, Daniel Mendelsohn explains why growing up, all he wanted to be was a critic.
Just a day after Penguin Press announced that it would publish an account of the Osama bin Laden raid by an anonymous Navy SEAL, FOX News revealed the author’s identity. According to FOX, the author of No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden (coming out on Sept. 11, of course) is Matt Bissonnette, a thirty-six-year-old retired SEAL who lives in Alaska.
The BBC is adapting Benjamin Black’s—i.e John Banville’s—detective novels into a three-part series of ninety-minute episodes. The episodes will star actor Gabriel Byrne as the protagonist, a detective named Quirke.
The managers of the band Fleet Foxes are starting their own literary journal, which is set to launch this September. The first issue of Unified Field Collective will be about the theme of “transition”, and best of all, will come with a ten-inch vinyl disc that includes rare recordings of Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Fleet Foxes members, and others.
The Financial Times begins their profile of Ian McEwan with one of the better disclaimers we’ve read in a while: “The previous time novelist Ian McEwan was interviewed by a journalist from the FT for a profile, something unexpected happened. Reader, he married her.”
Is Fifty Shades of Gray better in Korean? Some people think so—but only because the dirty parts are lost in translation.
Emma Straub’s second novel, The Good Face, has been announced. The book is due out with Riverhead in 2013.
Ann Friedman’s #realtalk advice column for young journalists over at the Columbia Journalism Review is definitely worth checking out, and not just for the animated jpegs: The current edition is on deciding when or whether to sell out.
Did you know Norman Mailer directed films? He did, four of them, and according to Sam Adams at Slate, the best thing to come out of Mailer’s relatively short-lived cinematic career was an epic fight scene between Mailer and Rip Torn that happens at the end of Maidstone. That 1970 movie was “shot over five days on several East Hampton estates and featuring a cast of dozens headed by—who else—Mailer himself, as art-house pornographer and potential presidential candidate Norman T. Kingsley.”
While the rise of self-publishing has been a boon to writers flying under the radar of traditional publishing houses, it hasn't been easy for self-published authors to get review attention. But for a price, gettingbookreviews.com founder Todd Rutherford can change that, the New York Times reports. For $499, Rutherford will write twenty positive reviews of a self-published book. For $999, he’ll write fifty. Before long, Rutherford realized that demand was outpacing supply, and advertised on Craigslist to see how little he could pay freelance writers while still keeping his clients—book authors—happy. The answer was $15 a review, or half that if the reviewers decided not to give a book a five-star rating. (They rarely do). Rutherford now earns $28,000 a month, and one of his top reviewers, a twenty-four-year-old named Brittany Walters-Bearden, made $12,500 after several months working for him. She told the Times that in order to write a three-hundred-word review, she spent on average fifteen minutes reading the book. “There were books I wished I could have gone back and actually read,” she said. “But I had to produce 70 pieces of content a week to pay my bills.”
The Norton Anthology of English Literature is turning fifty, and to celebrate, founding editor M.H. Abrams, chats with current editor Steven Greenblatt about what’s changed over the years, and why the book remains relevant.
Britain’s BBC Two has announced that will air a six-hour adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies in late 2013.
Bill Clinton has become a somewhat prolific book blurber, giving literary endorsements to books on climate change, studies of economic development, and a memoir by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson.
Last night, a Brooklyn poetry and fiction reading turned into a barroom brawl. The "tipping point," according to BlackBook, occurred when poet Michael Robbins (Alien Vs. Predator) "unfavorably compared the bartender to Billy Joel."
To the chagrin of college bookstores, when students want to buy textbooks these days, they’re heading straight to Amazon. New studies show that actual course materials are accounting less and less for bookstore sales, dropping to only 54 percent last year. At the rate things are going, writes Mark Athitakis at the New Republic, books might fall by the wayside entirely. “The college store of 2015 is one part Target, one part ESPNU, one ever-shrinking part course materials: There are the requisite team-branded T-shirts, notebooks, and shot glasses, but also computer repair, dry cleaning, grab-and-go sushi, pop-up stores, Wii competitions, poetry slams, train tickets.”
David Mitchell is huge in China. Perhaps too huge for his own good. The Cloud Atlas author was chased down the street by a devoted crowd of fans this week after a reading in Shanghai, many of whom were carrying copies of the book and demanding autographs. “This has never happened before,” Mitchell remarked to a Wall Street Journal reporter. “I have no idea why the book is so popular. If you find out, can you let me know?”
At the New Yorker’s Page Turner blog, Richard Brody—author of the Jean-Luc Godard biography Everything Is Cinema—weighs in on the current debate over niceness and criticism, noting that “criticism, if it’s worth anything at all, is, first of all, self-criticism.”
According to a pro-government Cuban blogger, Fidel Castro is not, as previously reported, on the brink of death, but rather has been squirreled away working on a book that he’s co-authoring with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
It’s that time of the year again: British auction house Ladbrokes has set the odds for the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature. Haruki Murakami is the clear favorite, with 10-to-1 odd, while Chinese writer Mo Yan and Dutch author Cees Nooteboom hold 12-to-1 odds, followed by Ismail Kadare, Adonis, and Ko Un at 14-to-1. Here is the full list. (Our favorite cluster: Bob Dylan, Don DeLillo, and Joyce Carol Oates all have 33-to-1 odds.)
A very young Gore Vidal
In time for election season, Amazon has unveiled what they call an “election heat map,” which breaks down the country into “red” and “blue” states by taking the thirty-day averages of political book sales. While on the national level, red book sales are 12 points ahead of blue ones, political affinities switch when it comes to the candidates. According to Amazon, Obama’s biography The Audacity of Hope has outsold sold Romney’s No Apology by 64 percent over the past month.
NASA has renamed a Mars landing site after sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury. The news was announced on Wednesday by NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover, which made landfall and then tweeted, "In tribute, I dedicate my landing spot on Mars to you, Ray Bradbury. Greetings from Bradbury Landing!"
Check out Helen DeWitt’s story “Recovery” in the new edition of Electric Literature.
When is a unpublished novel like a dead man’s kidney? At the Paris Review blog, Casey Cep makes an enthralling (if morbid) case for understanding the complications of posthumous publishing through the logic of organ donation.
Slate publishes clips from Christopher Hitchens’s final, forthcoming memoir Mortality (which Jeff Sharlet reviews in our fall issue), and Slate editor David Plotz complements the excerpts with his own annotations.
Novelist and biographer Jay Parini is confirmed to be writing a biography of Gore Vidal, which is tentatively scheduled to be published in 2015 by Doubleday. According to Doubleday editor (and Bookforum contributor) Gerald Howard, Parini and Vidal met thirty years ago in Italy and had been in frequent contact before the writer’s death in July. “They hit it off quite well,” Howard told the New York Times, “and Jay had been talking to Gore for all that time, usually weekly and sometimes daily, in person or more often over the phone, so he knows a lot about Gore that he’s heard directly from the source.”
If you own a Mac, you might be pleased to learn that David Foster Wallace and Zadie Smith live inside your thesaurus. This is because Macs utilize (“a puff-word” says DFW) the Oxford American Writers’ Thesaurus, which features notes by writers about words and their usage. For a full list of who contributed notes to certain words, check out Dave Madden’s blog.
What’s the matter with Newsweek? That’s the question on, well, everybody’s mind after Tina Brown’s magazine ran a very problematic cover story by economic historian Niall Ferguson, author of titles such as The Ascent of Money, which made a case against re-electing Obama. The story was problematic not because of the politics—which were conservative—but because of the facts, which were largely wrong. At the Atlantic, economics editor Matthew O’Brien does a full fact-check of all the problems in Ferguson’s piece, many of which which Paul Krugman noted yesterday: “There are multiple errors and misrepresentations in Niall Ferguson’s cover story... I guess they don’t do fact-checking.” As a matter of fact, they don’t, a Newsweek rep told Politico’s Dylan Byers. (Craig Silverman adds that even though Newsweek invented magazine fact-checking in 1923, they abandoned the practice in 1996). In what may be the first-ever charge against bloggers for being too factually attentive, Ferguson responded to widespread criticism by blaming the "liberal blogosphere" of "nit-picking." Newsweek has gone on record calling the article an opinion piece, but has refused to weigh in on its factual inaccuracies.
Ian McEwan answers questions about his new novel, Sweet Tooth.
HTMLGiant lays out the four primary aims of book reviewing, and explains why William Girardi’s takedown of Alix Ohlin in last week’s New York Times Book Review not only fails on these counts, but is “indefensible” as a review.
These are the books New York Magazine book critic Kathryn Schulz really wants to read this fall.
Last week was the week of bad book reviews. In The Guardian, J Robert Lennon reviewed Paul Auster’s Winter Journal (“...a terrible book—the kind of self-indulgent, ill-conceived, and poorly edited disaster that makes you doubt whether or not you could truly have liked the works that preceded it”). And in the New York Times Book Review, William Giraldi eviscerated Alix Ohlin’s Inside and Signs and Wonders in a review so scathing its prompted conversation about why the Times chose to run it. So what are the rules of writing good bad reviews? At Salon, Lennon offers some etiquette tips for panning a book.
Yes, literary self-publishing does exist.
At the Edinburgh World Writers' Conference, Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh took the Man Booker Prize committee to task for judging books "based on the conceit that upper-class Englishness is the cultural yardstick against which all literature must be measured."
Sick of being asked about how much of his novel was “from his life,” novelist Jay Caspian King conducted a little experiment on Gawker. He excerpted part of his novel, The Dead Do Not Improve, and went through it annotating which parts are fiction, and which were taken from real life.
New York magazine devises a handy interactive flow-chart to help readers figure out which “event” novels they should pick up this fall. The first question (American or English?) makes us ask: What about literature in translation?
Frank Rich wonders why Nora Ephron, who died last June, never shared news of her terminal illness.
The very funny Joshua Cohen and Gemma Sieff field reader queries about life, love, and Spanish punctuation at the Paris Review blog.
Still from Cosmopolis
Newly released FBI files on Sylvia Plath’s father, Otto, corroborate Plath’s pro-Nazi characterization of him in her 1958 poem, “Daddy” ("Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You— / Not God but a swastika”) by describing him as “pro-German” with a “morbid disposition."
Ira Glass talks to the New York Times Book Review about what he’s reading—which includes lots of books on the history of Minnesota for an upcoming This American Life episode.
The Village Voice laid off five editorial staffers this week, and more cuts were made across the Village Voice media empire. Does this mean, as Rosie Gray claims at Buzzfeed, that the future of the Voice is imminent?
Galleycat rounds up the writers and poets who inspired Russian punk band Pussy Riot, namely poet Joseph Brodsky and members of the Russian absurdist poetry movement Oberiu.
New studies find that usage of first person pronouns “me” and “I” have increased forty percent in novels between 1960 and 2008, while the use of "you" has jumped an amazing three hundred percent. But what does this mean for fiction? The Atlantic Wire traces the rise of the second-person novel.
Is David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don Delillo’s Cosmopolis any good? While it can be “maddening in its slowness, its reliance on dense, hyperstylized dialogue, and its casual dismissal of traditional story structure,” Dana Stevens writes at Slate, “it’s also bracing in its unapologetic engagement with language and ideas.”
Good news: the East Village’s St. Mark’s Bookshop, which must leave its longtime location at 31 Third Avenue, has raised enough money online that it can now sign a new lease at a new location.
“God is trying to kill me.” And: “I asked this guy to marry me, and it scared him off.” The Awl has printed a number of Paul Legault’s “translations” of Emily Dickinson poems, which were recently collected in Legault’s The Emily Dickinson Reader (McSweeney’s).
Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of serial child molestation early this summer, is apparently writing a book from jail. One would hope he chooses a better title than the one he used for his first (and only) book: Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story. He will be sentenced in September.
In a statement yesterday that began “Apple has not settled with the Government,” the tech giant filed an opposition to the government’s proposed settlement with publishers Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins over the e-book price fixing case.
At Salon, Laura Miller argues that the female authors write YA novels for the same reason that male authors don’t: because there’s a lack of prestige associated with the genre.
For the first time ever, scientists have used DNA to encode a book. And not only that—at the current rate of development, researchers say that within the next five to ten years, it will be cheaper to store information in DNA than in traditional digital mediums. There’s no word on which book was encoded, only that it was 53,000 words long.