New Yorkers: the first meeting of the Public TransLit Book Club will be held on Dec. 11 at the Lolita Bar on Broome Street. And what’s the TransLit club? It’s a mass-commuter reading group (a variation of Seattle’s Books on the Bus Club) in which participating straphangers read designated books. The inaugural book will be Andy Greenberg’s book on WikiLeaks, This Machine Kills Secrets.
Kevin Powers has won the Guardian’s first-book award for Yellow Birds, his novel about a gunner in Iraq. Powers spent two years serving with the army in Iraq, and took the title of his novel from a marching song he learned there: "A yellow bird / With a yellow bill / Was perched upon/ my windowsill / I lured him in / With a piece of bread / And then I smashed / His fucking head."
At the New York Review of Books, Gabriel Winslow-Yost accesses Chris Ware’s collected works, and makes a compelling case for the triumph of the “comic-book novel.”
Mergers are not good for publishing, André Schiffrin, author of titles such as The Business of Books and A Political Education, argues at the Nation. While proponents usually argue that bigger publishers will be better equipped to battle Amazon, Schiffin counters that over the past few decades, the rise of mergers has meant the disappearance of independent bookstores and the decline in independent books.
On the heels of Flavorwire’s list of New York’s 100 Most Important Living Writers (spoiler alert: Philip Roth is number one), HTML Giant offers up its list of New York’s 100 Most Important Rats Living in the Subway System.
Bob Saget, who used to host America's Funniest Home Videos, is writing a dirty book. We’re kind of excited about it.
Edgar Allen Poe House
The Observer crashes Tao Lin’s graduate seminar on the short story, and gets pretty much what you’d expect: a discussion of George Saunders and casual prescription-drug use.
Despite how many books are being published these days, writers and publishers are often bad at promoting them, argues Impossible Mike at HTML Giant. But then, precisely because of the number of books coming out, most forms of advertising don’t seem to work: traditional promotion is often ignored, and social media is overrated. “I’m just wondering,” he writes, “what the hell is the best way to sustainably advertise books? Reading tours? Book trailers? Posting your shit on Tumblr? Linking your books to your friends and family?”
“You might wonder how a ten-year career becomes worthy of commemoration, and so would I. Yet no one openly questioned why we were attending a 'roast' of, rather than a reading by, Gary Shteyngart”: Michelle Dean reports from an event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
What’s the status of e-reading in China? Some statistics: According to the Atlantic’s Peter Osnos, “some 220 million people read electronic media. Of these, almost 120 million people use their mobile phone to read. And almost 25 million people only use their cellphones to read books."
An international streak of literary vandalism continues with the desecration of the Edgar Allen Poe House in Baltimore. Within the past month, vandals have graffitied the side of the building, and stolen the house’s wooden steps.
This week’s shameless linkbait: Flavorwire’s list of the New York’s “100 Most Important Living Writers.”
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.
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.
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.”