Polarizing French author Michel Houellebecq has won the Prix Goncourt for his fifth novel, La carte et le territoire, though the book was denounced earlier this year by Goncourt Academy member Tahar Ben Jelloun. In an interview in the most recent Paris Review, Houellebecq says of his critics: "They hate me more than I hate them. What I do reproach them for isn’t bad reviews. It is that they talk about things having nothing to do with my books . . . they caricature me so that I’ve become a symbol of so many unpleasant things—cynicism, nihilism, misogyny."
This year, the words staycation and microblogging were added to the Oxford English Dictionary, but what about the words that are on their way out? The Guardian tallies some of the terms that have fallen out of favor (aeipathy and welmish), and profiles the "lexicographical social workers" that try to rescue them.
Tech guru David Pogue diagnoses the trouble with e-readers (finally!), and offers some reassuring words: "Television didn’t kill radio as everyone expected. E-mail didn’t wipe out paper mail, either; the paperless office may never arrive. For the same reason, e-books won’t kill paper books." Do we hear a collective sigh of relief? For those who haven't heard the good news, Pogue offers some tips for more satisfying e-reading.
When Paul Harding's debut novel, Tinkers, won the Pulitzer Prize this spring, it became an indie-publishing success story: The book was published by the indie imprint Bellevue Literary Press for a reported advance of $1,000, and was the first small-press book to win the Pulitzer since 1981's A Confederacy of Dunces. If you're in Brooklyn tonight, you can see Harding read his work at BookCourt.
Nicole Krauss, photo by Joyce Ravid.
WWD details the rivalry between Hugo Lindgren, the new editor of the New York Times Magazine, and his former boss, New York magazine's Adam Moss. Lindgren asks: “Did you see this week’s issue [of New York]? They had one of our writers in there. They had pretty much our subject matter across the magazine. It’s totally good, though. What makes it good? Why are the Mets and Yankees spending so much money to put the best team out on the field? Because they don’t want to be the second best team in New York."
The New Republic is turning ninety-six years old this week, and to celebrate they're asking editors and writers to select their favorites from the TNR's archives. But why not just hold out another four years and celebrate the centennial? As TNR's Jonathan Chait writes: "by the 100th anniversary, we’ll be living under the Palin regime, where all forms of reading will have been forgotten, and we’ll all be wearing animal skins and subsisting on wild plants. So, before that happens, enjoy!"
The reader meets author encounter at a book signing is often an awkward and fleeting exchange: The author scribbles his or her name and offers some self-effacing platitudes and pleasantries, before a bookstore minder rushes the line along to the next awestruck admirer. But when blogger Bill Ryan approaches writers, book in hand, he has a different purpose in mind: He wants to be Insulted by Authors.
Behold the glamorous international extravaganza of the Not the Booker prize award ceremony.
Nicole Krauss and Cynthia Ozick are conversing tonight at the 92nd Street Y. Krauss is the author most recently of the novel Great House and Ozick just published a new fiction, Foreign Bodies, which aims to be a "photographic negative" of Henry James's book The Ambassadors, where "the plot is the same, the meaning is reversed."
Rebecca Skloot, author of Amazon's Best Book of 2010.
Photo © Manda Townsend
Slate has published Mick Jagger's rambling reaction to Keith Richards's new memoir, Life. Jagger apparently accidentally sent the typewritten, stream-of-consciousness screed to journalist Bill Wyman instead of the Stones' bassist of the same name who oversees the band's archives. Is it a prank, a parody, or the legitimate scoop of the current blog cycle? Slate isn't saying. Whatever the case, it makes for entertaining reading, as Jagger writes: "It is said of me that I act above the rest of the band and prefer the company of society swells. Would you rather have had a conversation with Warren Beatty, Andy Warhol, and Ahmet Ertegun . . . or Keith, his drug mule Tony, and the other surly nonverbal members of his merry junkie entourage?"
Did Michiko Kakutani and Liz Phair recently watch the film Avatar together, or is it simply that great minds think alike? From the lede of Phair's upcoming New York Times Sunday Book Review of Richards's Life: "He's been a global avatar of wish fulfillment for over four decades." From Kakutani's lede in last week's Books of the Times review: "Keith Richards is not only the heart and soul of the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band, he’s also the very avatar of rebellion."
Edward Champion delivers a full account of the magazine Cooks Source's alleged penchant for plagiarism.
This weekend, art book aficionados from around the world will cram into the converted classrooms of MoMA's PS1 in Queens for the New York Art Book Fair. The exposition is free, which is handy, since you'll want to spend your discretionary cash on the beautiful artist's volumes (including zines!) on display. There are also book signings and a slate of intriguing events.
Amazon's Best Books of 2010 list is topped by Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Other notables in the top twenty: To the End of the Land by David Grossman, Just Kids by Patti Smith, and The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt—as well as Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, way down at number six.
We're four days into National Novel Writing Month, the annual project that encourages procrastinating would-be authors to plow ahead and pen a 50,000 word novel from scratch in thirty days (quantity over quality is the rule), and fifty-thousand words have already been spilled about the merits of participating. At Salon, Laura Miller criticizes the endeavor, writing "the last thing the world needs is more bad books," but Jacket Copy's Carolyn Kellogg disagrees, as does Ron Hogan at Beatrice, and some folks who participate in NaNoWrMo, lodging their anti-Miller complaints on their blogs and Twitter. But wait, shouldn't these folks be writing their novels? At least a novel excuse, if not an actual novel, has emerged from the debate: Writing a righteous defense of NaNoWrMo beats plodding through a rough draft any day.
An editor of the literary blog The Rumpus writes of the site's unexpected popularity: "it’s been hard not to notice that the success of the Rumpus has led to a bit of a Rumpus identity freak-out."
V. S. Naipaul's The Masque of Africa finds sir Vidia back on the continent he once declared didn't have a future, to pen what Thomas Meaney has called "a searching inquiry into Africa's past with an eye to its future," but as Giles Foden observes in the Ugandan publication The Independent, Naipaul "never writes of Africa with anything remotely approaching love." Post-colonial literature scholar E. Kim Stone answers questions about African fiction in the US today, while Rwandan author Kelvin Odoobo updates Binyavanga Wainaina's satirical essay "How to Write About Africa," noting the opportunity "to show the world the real Africa, not the one demonized by western media. James Gibbons writes in last summer's Bookforum of the continent's literary boom: "The sporadic media coverage of Africa runs a familiar gamut, broadcasting a continent in perpetual—and, it is implied, essential—peril. The challenge of African writing is to provide some new news [and] African writers have risen to the task."
Adam Levin is reading tonight at Brooklyn's BookCourt, from his new bravura 1,000 plus page debut novel, The Instructions, narrated by an oddly eloquent and knowing ten-year old revolutionary who might just be the Jewish messiah.
Stacy Schiff, photo by Sheva Fruitman
Why did indie publisher Soft Skull Press close its New York offices after seventeen years in the city? The Observer investigates.
As the debate about Amazon's sponsorship of the Best Translated Book Awards continues, the online bookselling giant has announced the first release of its new translation imprint, AmazonCrossing: Guinean author Tierno Monénembo's The King of Kahel, a novel based on the life of Olivier de Sanderval, an early colonizer of West Africa.
New York magazine has taken the iPad plunge with its new app, which integrates print content with live feeds from their blogs.
In "E-book Readers Come of Age" the gadget blog Ars Technica sings a hymn praising the Kindle 3, with one dissonant note: "It's not all good news. The Kindle interface still feels like something that escaped from 1985 and time-traveled into the future."
Dave Eggers's World Series sketch for San Francisco's Bay Citizen.
George W. Bush will be the headliner at this year's Miami Book Fair. On November 14, he'll give a straight-shooting talk about his memoir, Decision Points, which comes out a week from today. In the Drudge Report's exclusive preview, we learn that Bush's book begins with a trope found in so much of great literature, namely, a drinking binge: "Can you remember the last time you didn't have a drink?"
MobyLives airs some behind-the-scenes grumbling from the National Book Critics Circle Award, posting this remark from a dispirited anonymous board member: "Things are just as problematic at the NBCC as everywhere: none of the members have read all the submitted books, anything edgy or politically incorrect has no chance (since it always offends someone), and often the winners are books that the board members are merely 'okay' with."
Author and McSweeney's founder Dave Eggers sketches the World Series-winning San Francisco Giants and their fans.
Hillary Mantel, the author of the 2009 Booker-winning novel Wolf Hall, writes a diary for the London Review of Books detailing a recent medical operation, considering the language of illness, and sparring with Virginia Woolf: "When Virginia Woolf’s doctors forbade her to write, she obeyed them. Which makes me ask, what kind of wuss was Woolf?" For those curious about Woolf's On Being Ill, here's a review by Francine Prose from the spring 2003 issue of Bookforum.
Joy Division, from Kevin Cummins's new book of the band, published by Rizzoli.
Last week, Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson announced that he was withdrawing his imprint's books from the Best Translated Book awards because the "predatory and thuggish" Amazon.com is sponsoring the contest. Open Letter publisher Chad Post, who secured the Amazon funding for the prize, has responded to Johnson, writing that the judges may go ahead and award a Melville House book anyway, and wonders if Johnson is "also withdrawing support from PEN America, the 92nd St. Y, and all of these other organizations that have received funding from Amazon."
Novelist Arundhati Roy’s Delhi house was surrounded by protestors who chanted, "Take back your statement, else leave India." Roy is at risk for arrest for saying that the disputed territory of Kashmir was not an integral part of India.
Post-punk band Joy Division's look was as influential as their music to scores of bands that followed. Trim dress, minimalist record sleeve design, and rich black-and-white photographs of the dour quartet accentuated their austere sound, conveying an aesthetic that captivated legions of fans looking for an alternative to the excess and posturing in both pop and punk music of the time. In a new book, photographer Kevin Cummins unearths his photos of the band from the late 70s, presenting stark and elegant portraits of the Manchester lads posing in snowy landscapes, playing in bleak practice spaces, and—best of all—conveying the intensity of the band's determined and electric live performances.
Tonight New York's Poets House is hosting an evening with the acclaimed Syrian poet Adonis.
Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson is withdrawing his imprint's books from the Best Translated Book Award (which Melville House won last year), because Amazon is now sponsoring the prize. Johnson cites the web giants's "predatory and thuggish practices,” and writes, "Taking money from Amazon is akin to the medical researchers who take money from cigarette companies."
Cultural critics fond of the long form, take note: Condensed reviews are gaining momentum. At the Huffington Post, Kimberly Brooks has introduced "Haiku Reviews," which is, we have to say, false advertising, since the reviews so far aren't true haikus, just somewhat brief. (A more accurate title would be "Fairly Short Reviews.") Meanwhile, over at the Michigan Quarterly Review, the superb poet D. A. Powell and Randall Mann have started the accurately titled "The One Sentence Review," which, as the title suggests, boils down reviews (of poetry) to a single sentence. This isn't easy, but so far it's good.
Kate Bernheimer and Maria Tatar have written an open letter requesting that the National Book Award remove its bizarre current ban on "collections and/or retellings of folk-tales, myths, and fairy-tales." With the NBA's support or not, Bernheimer has been producing a steady stream of fantastical fiction—as an author (see her new story collection Horse, Flower, Bird) and as an editor of the Fairy Tale Review and the excellent new anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me (which includes stories by Joy Williams, Brian Evenson, Chris Adrian, and others).
Bill Morris reflects on the rejection letter in the age of e-mail: "The electronic burps I’m getting today are, for the most part, shallow, cursory and absolutely useless to me as a writer. Sad but true, the rejection letter, like so many things in book publishing, is a shadow of what it used to be."
NYC author events this weekend: Zadie Smith is reading tonight at NYU; her recent collection of essays, Changing My Mind, is a critical tour-de-force, astutely critiquing E. M. Forster, Cary Grant, Kafka, Barak Obama, David Foster Wallace, and more. On Saturday, the New Museum is hosting a discussion with Eileen Myles, Renee Gladman, and Laurie Weeks on "the apparitional quality of the female figure in literary history."
David Foster Wallace and friend
The Millions links to a previously unpublished story by David Foster Wallace, which a few years ago was circulated samizdat-style and is now on Tumblr. The story, presumably from the author's forthcoming posthumous novel, The Pale King, opens with a boy who wants "to press his lips to every square inch of his body," hinting at a tragic mix of self-love and overwhelming isolation in ways that only DFW can.
Daniel Ellsberg, the man famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971 (and the subject of a recent PBS documentary, "The Most Dangerous Man in America"), has just signed a contract to write a memoir about his time working on nuclear strategy for the Defense Department. We suggest that the book be thoroughly vetted, or else it could go the way of Army intelligence officer Anthony Shaffer's Operation Dark Heart, a memoir whose first printing the Defense Department recently arranged to have pulped.
Grove/Atlantic will soon publish the book Roger Sterling was supposedly writing during the last season of Mad Men, which may outdo the gold standard for literary stocking-stuffers, 2005's philosophical treatise On Bullshit. The new tome, titled Sterling's Gold, favors the epigrammatic style you'll find in the terser passages of Nietzsche, although the comparison grinds to a halt there. A sample nugget of Sterling wisdom: "Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons and eventually they hit you in the face."
Reviewing Anne Trubek's new book A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses, Laura Miller argues that "literary pilgrimages" are worthwhile: "For some of us, [Emily Dickinson's] chamber pot is the star attraction. It tells us that Dickinson may have been incandescently brilliant and gifted, but she had to piss in a pot just like everybody else."
James Patterson joins Steig Larsson in the million-reader Kindle club.
Tonight, David Thomson, for whom writing about movies seems as natural as breathing, will discuss his authoritative (and yet still-evolving) Biographical Dictionary of Film at 192 Books. Film-geek bonus: Show up with your copy of Thomson's cult classic work of half-fiction, Suspects, in which a narrator spins increasingly embellished stories about Norma Desmond, Norman Bates, and other film characters who, set free from their frames, mingle with one another and create an alternative cinematic mythology.
In an article about his literary magazine, Electric Literature, Brooklyn-based editor Andy Hunter offers an insightful meditation on how to succeed in contemporary publishing: "People often refer to Electric Literature as an 'online magazine.' In reality, online is the only place we do not publish." The innovative publisher just released its latest app, produced with author Stephen Elliott for his excellent memoir The Adderall Diaries (film rights for Elliott's book were recently optioned by James Franco).
Elliott's Rumpus Book Club unveils its latest selections, which include Rumpus Women Volume 1 (personal essays), Harlem Is Nowhere by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, and Deux Ex Machina by Rumpus Books editor Andrew Foster Altschul.
We've heard that Barnes and Noble will unveil its new e-reader, the NookColor, today in New York. The device is a seven-inch tablet, with a color screen, which runs the Android operating system. After recent reports about shareholder strife, BN could use some good coverage, and here comes the flood.
PW announces another book of the year in its ongoing series leading up to its 2010 top ten list: The Frankies Sputino: Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual.
Tonight, the French Institute Alliance Francaise begins its Write About Now literary series, co-hosted with Bookforum and the Villa Gillet, with an event featuring American novelist Joshua Ferris (The Unnamed) and French writer Francois Beaune (Un Homme louche) discussing "Characters as Outsiders."