Camilla Long’s scathing review of Rachel Cusk’s memoir Aftermath has won the annual “Hatchet Job of the Year” award. In little more than a thousand words, Long characterizes Cusk as “a brittle little dominatrix” and the book as a "vague literary blah, a needy, neurotic mandolin solo of reflections on child sacrifice and asides about drains." Ouch.
Given the rise in “showrooming” (the act of flipping through titles at a local bookstore before going home and buying the books on Amazon) booksellers are beginning to wonder whether charging customers simply to browse is as crazy as it sounds. In a BBC interview this week, UK HarperCollins CEO Victoria Barnsley suggested that bookstores might want to experiment with the strategy. On this side of the pond, however, the idea wasn’t met with much enthusiasm. “If it comes to charging admission for customers to browse, we’re done,” said Mark Laframboise, the manager of the Washington, D.C. bookstore Politics & Prose.
Is it ever acceptable to judge a book by its cover? Yes, but only so long as its framed as a question of design. At The Millions, the editors pit U.S. book covers against their British counterparts.
A Valentine’s Day event called Naked Girls Reading (which is exactly what you think it is) has been cancelled at a Washington, D.C. bar because the “laws that govern the bar’s liquor license can’t tell the difference between performance artists and strippers.”
The Paris Review Daily takes readers on a guided tour of Amish romance novels, also known as “bonnet books.” In contrast to their hot-blooded brethren, these novels are“at the center of evangelical faith literature, with young Amish women often coming to experience a relationship with God tailored to their own personal plights.”
It it possible to summarize Proust? A Guardian book club is attempting to find out. One commenter has already kicked things off with Harold Bloom’s famous synopsis of Swann’s Way: "A comic novel about sexual jealousy."
Amid new suspicion that Chilean poet Pablo Neruda may have been poisoned following the coup that overthrew his friend, socialist leader Salvador Allende, a Chilean court has ordered that Neruda’s body be exhumed for a full autopsy. Neruda died twelve days after the 1973 coup, and the cause of death was stated as “extreme malnutrition”—even though Neruda weighed 220 pounds at the time.
Tom Wolfe reportedly nabbed a $7 million advance for his last novel, Back to Blood, but so far, the book has only sold 62,000 copies (not including sales at Walmart and Sam’s Club). Choire Sicha crunches the numbers and finds that “that's at least a hundred bucks in advance per copy sold.” (You can read Eric Benson’s Bookforum review of the novel here.)
To mark the fiftieth anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s death, the Guardian hosts Sandra Lahire’s Lady Lazarus, a short film made up of video clips of Plath reading, an interview she gave in the early '60s, and excerpts of her poems. Also, Lena Dunham, Jeanette Winterson, Jacqueline Rose, Jennifer Egan, and others reflect on what Plath meant to them.
A private librarian in Mali explains to Harper’s how he helped saved Timbuktu’s collection of rare Islamic manuscripts.
Documents recently released by the Kansas Bureau of Investigations reveal that events depicted in two chapters of Truman Capote's 1966 In Cold Blood "differ significantly from what actually happened.”
“I have killed my wife and cut her rather crudely into small pieces, which I have wrapped hastily in paper bundles. The whole of her fits in a cardboard box, which is still relatively easy to handle.” The New York Review of Books excerpts one of Georges Perec’s more disturbing nighttime fantasies from a new translation of La Boutique Obscure: 124 Dreams.
2013 Jaipur Literature Festival
Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree, has written a thoughtful story about his friendship with Ghanaian president John Dramani Mahama—a friendship that in recent weeks has been scrutinized by the Ghanaian press. "President John Dramani has been fingered to be in bed with one Mr. Andrew Solomon, a gay lobbyist," one paper has reported. Solomon points out that he has "neither the ability nor the inclination to meddle in foreign elections." But he does express his hope that Mahama will "take a leadership role in the region on L.G.B.T. rights."
Macmillian has agreed to settle a Department of Justice lawsuit over e-book pricing, making it the last of the five big publishing houses named in the suit to do so. (Apple remains a defendant.)
More than 200,000 people turned out for the Jaipur Literature Festival this year, the most in the event’s eleven-year history. At the Financial Times, festival organizer William Dalrymple, the historian (whose Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan is out this April) reflects on how things have changed, and what can go wrong at the biggest literary festival in Asia-Pacific: “This year the Hindu far right protested about the presence of Pakistani writers and musicians, while various Muslim groups wanted us to disinvite Jeet Thayil, who last year read out a passage of The Satanic Verses in support of Salman Rushdie.”
Sam Lipsyte on "the awkward art of writing about sex."
"Wife wanted: intelligent, beautiful, 18 to 25, broad-minded, sensitive, affectionate..." NPR considers the history of personal ads at The New York Review of Books.
R&B superstar Frank Ocean, subject of last weekend’s New York Times Magazine cover story, is currently writing a novel about brothers.
Washington, D.C.: The country's most literate city—even with politicians.
Helen Fielding, the godmother of chick lit, has written a new Bridget Jones novel, which will be published in November by Knopf. Title TBD.
An Idaho state senator has introduced legislation would require high school students to read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, “a novel touted by conservatives like Rep. Paul Ryan and Rush Limbaugh.”
Regan Arthur has been named the publisher and senior vice-presidentof Little, Brown, officially taking the position left open when Michael Pietsch became the CEO of Hachette in September of last year. Arthur, who has worked for Little, Brown since 2001, has edited books by Tina Fey, Joshua Ferris, George Pelecanos, and others.
In an ongoing series for Paper Monument that asks writers to “choose and describe a single image,” Emily Witt considers the cover of a 1978 Pocket Books edition of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays.
The New Statesman and Goldsmiths, University of London, are teaming up to launch a new literary prize designed to reward fiction that is “genuinely novel,” and “embodies the spirit of invention.” The award—which has not yet been named—grew out of a response to the judges of the Man Booker, who in the past have resisted awarding the Booker to writers like Hari Kunzru or Edward St. Aubyn on the grounds that their novels might not “appeal to the average intelligent reader.” The deadline for submissions to the new New Statesman prize is the end of March, and will be awarded in October.
For the second year in a row, Washington D.C. has been named thecountry’s most literate city, with Seattle, WA., and Minneapolis, MN., holding tight in the second and third spots. New York came in at number 21.
The Uffington White Horse
New Yorkers, come to the Union Square Barnes and Noble tonight to hear Eileen Myles, Laurie Weeks, Barbara Browning, Vivien Goldman, Johanna Fateman, and Justin Vivian Bond read from the new Feminist Press book Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom. For more on l’affaire Pussy Riot, read Sara Marcus’s consideration of the book.
Alan Hollinghurst talks to the blog Gilded Birds about the Uffington White Horse, a prehistoric hill figure in south eastern England and the “first work of art [he] can remember.”
Colm Toibin is teaming up with German director Volker Schlöndorff to co-write a screenplay for an original film called Montauk. Schlöndorff initially approached Toibin with the outline of an idea, and Toibin returned with twenty pages of material. “Colm and I wrote this four-handed, literally, and now we’re finishing it via Skype. The odd thing is we both consider it 100% autobiographical, each one of us,” Schlöndorff said. Montauk is expected to be in theaters next winter.
Twitter communities are graciously stepping up to help former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner name his forthcoming book about fighting the financial crisis. Our favorites so far: “Heart of TARPness” and “The Goldman and the Sea.”
A new study out of Virginia Tech argues that "scholars and health officials should be concerned about the effect chick lit novels might have on women's body image."
Jamaica Kincaid insists that she did not base her new novel on her marriage to former husband Allen Shawn: “I wanted to write about the life of children and the lives of their parents without everyone thinking it was about me and my children and their life,” she said. “And of course, everyone thinks it is. It is not. I maintain it is not.”
Theodor Geisel and the Cat in the Hat.
After more than two years and $16 million, Hachette Book Group, Penguin and Simon & Schuster have finally debuted Bookish, a website designed to recommend books, share excerpts of new novels, and feature original essays.
At The New Republic, a paean to Barnes & Noble and its ability “to intuit the craving for a bit of bookish culture in the working- and middle-class suburbs” in the late '80s and early '90s: “It’s easy to forget now, but at the time suburban culture had few places that weren’t bars, bowling alleys, or the kind of restaurant where you could drink coffee and smoke for three hours without the waitstaff looking at you funny."
A new Believer review of American Psycho urges readers to skip the chapters that involve murder.
Martin Scorsese is filming a documentary about the New York Review of Books.
A comic debut novel about Adolf Hitler as a Sleeping Beauty-type character who wakes up in 2011 only to become a media sensation has sold more than 400,000 copies in Germany since its release last year and is slated for an international release in 2014. According to author Timur Vermes, He’s Back not only satirizes Germany’s obsession with Hitler, but also the culture that enabled it: "I want to show that Hitler would have a chance to succeed nowadays just as he did back then, just in another way."
Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, didn’t only dress his characters up in elaborate headgear—he wore it himself. A new exhibition at the New York Public Library, “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins,” highlights the exotic sartorial decisions of the man behind the Cat In the Hat.
Washington DC underground music icon Ian Svenonius (and one time “Sassiest Boy in America”) has written his second book, Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group (Akashic Books), in which he holds seances to cull advice from dead superstars about how to navigate rock’s crooked path. Of course, it’s half a spoof, and allows Svenonius to sound off in his signature style about street gangs, drugs, nostalgia, and many other pressing issues for the aspiring musician—as well as preach his revolutionary anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian ideas. It’s agitprop with a sense of humor. In support of his latest book, Svenonius is currently holding seances around the country, so if you have a pressing inquiry for Jimi Hendrix, or wondering what Jim Morrison thinks of surf music, now’s your chance.
Introducing the Organist, the Believer’s new podcast, featuring Greil Marcus’s riff on Bikini Kill and Percival Everett, Brandon Stosuy’s five-word rock reviews, and Nick Offerman’s history of the word podcast.
Archaeologists have announced that they’ve discovered the missing bones of Richard III, the eponymous subject of Shakespeare’s play.
Should why-I-quit-Wall-Street memoirs be retired as a genre? Michael Lewis considers this question in light of Greg Smith’s recent tell-all Why I Left Goldman Sachs. “In a funny way," Lewis writes, Smith "has written exactly the sort of book you might expect from an employee of Goldman Sachs: narrowly self-interested, curiously myopic.” (For a somewhat offputting encounter with that review, try listening to it read aloud on the New Republic's recently revamped website.)
Legendary New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell returns to the magazine this week for the first time since 1964 via an excerpt that his biographer, Thomas Kunkel, found among the late staffer’s papers. The piece, titled “Street Life,” was taken from Mitchell’s unpublished memoir, and is the first of three pieces that will run in the magazine.
P.G. Wodehouse's A Life in Letters is now available. Read Ed Park's essay on the comic novelist's correspondence here.
A Lynda Barry doodle
Chris Kyle, the author of the bestseller American Sniper, was shot and killed at a shooting range in Texas on Saturday. Kyle’s book recounts his experiences as a Navy SEAL sharp-shooter in Iraq, where he was credited with more than 150 kills. The book also considers his brushes with depression after his return to the US. According to the Times, Kyle had brought his killer, a "troubled veteran," to the shooting range, hoping that a day there might bring the struggling ex-soldier "some relief." For more, read Jeff Stein's review of Kyle's "casually brutal memoir" from our last summer issue.
The head of the UK campaign group Survival International has taken Jared Diamond to task for his claim that pre-modern societies are chronically violent. During a reading last week of Diamond’s latest book, The World Until Yesterday, Jonathan Mazower accused the author of being "completely wrong—both factually and morally—and extremely dangerous." Diamond rebuffed the charges over the weekend, noting that violent behaviors have been extensively documented along the 39 tribal groups he wrote about, and adding that it’s especially harmful when "well-meaning defenders of traditional peoples...feel it necessary to deny the existence of those practices." For more on Jared Diamond and his critics, check out Jackson Lears’s review of The World Until Yesterday from our Jan/Feb issue.
A very girly—and very misguided—new cover for a reissue of Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar has inspired a host of parodies.
A new issue of the Slate Book Review is out, with illustrations by Revival cartoonist Mike Norton.
And speaking of cartoonists, Lynda Barry—author of books such as What It Is—is offering a course on “doodling and neuroscience” this semester at the University of Wisconsin. Those outside of the Badger State can follow along at home through Barry’s tumblr.
Freedom Press, one of London’s oldest anarchist publishers, was firebombed over the weekend. Nobody was injured in the blaze, but police say the storefront was "seriously damaged.”
The Vladimir Nabokov Museum
According to a list recently posted on Poynter, Charles “Chip” McGrath is among the staffers who are leaving the New York Times, which recently announced that it will be reducing staff by offering buyouts. McGrath edited the Times’s Sunday Book Review from 1994 until 2003, and has more recently been an arts reporter and reviewer for the paper, recently profiling authors such as Philip Roth and Andrew Solomon.
New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman gets a good look at plans for the Norman Foster-led redesign of the New York Public Library’s flagship branch, and isn’t impressed with what he sees. “The designs have all the elegance and distinction of a suburban mall,” Kimmelman complains. Ouch.
An ultra-conservative group have been systematically vandalizing the Vladimir Nabokov Museum in St. Petersburg for what they see as Nabokov’s efforts to “promote pedophilia.”
Novelist and onetime Harper's editor Colin Harrison is the new editor-in-chief of Simon and Schuster’s Scribner imprint.
Should publishers be allowed to correct factual errors in digital versions of nonfiction books? Even in books whose authors have died? If so, how much correcting is too much? Melville House publisher Dennis Loy Johnson grapples with this issue following his digital re-issue Thirty-Eight Witnesses, A.M. Rosenthal's 1964 book about the murder of Kitty Genovese.
Courier font gets a makeover.