A. L. Kennedy

iTunes has made album cover art all but obsolete—could book cover design be next? The Casual Optimist blog doesn't think so—it provides edifying links, interviews, and highlights of the best cover art—all dedicated to the idea that cover design is vital to the book trade. Novelist A. L. Kennedy writes that "these days authors are also judged by their covers." As writers make the rounds of author appearances, TV interviews, and publicity photo shoots, their looks sometimes seem almost as important as their books. As Kennedy notes, this can be a source of author anxiety: "As age and gravity assert themselves, my incipient goatee becomes luxuriant and my teeth remain as equine as ever, I can be sure that matters will only deteriorate. This should have very little to do with me, or my job—but it does."

From Vivian Gornick and Joan Didion to Emily Gould and Sloane Crosley. Are these last two women part of a new generation of memoirists, chronicling "a brave new female world," or the continuation of a trend in premature autobiography?

By now, you should be making good progress on your summer reading list. If you've yet to make headway, maybe you just need different books. The Millions has some suggestions, as does Maggie Fergusson at The Economists's More Intelligent Life site, while The Second Pass looks ahead to fall. And, if you're searching for like-minded readers, GalleyCat has collected a selection of Book Club Resources on Twitter.


Damali Ayo

William Golding may have had good reasons to write the dystopic Lord of the Flies; John Carey's new biography of the unhappy novelist reveals some of the indignities he had to endure, including this Navy mishap: Golding once "caused an explosion in his pants by placing bomb detonators and a battery in the same pocket."

Emily Gould continues her critique of her former employer, Gawker Media, writing that sites like Jezebel "tap into the market force of . . . 'outrage world,'" turning women against one another for the sake of the almighty Pageview. Meanwhile, the big-picture thinkers at Ad Age describe how its readers must contend with the Gawker-dominated media landscape: "The former playground bullies of the blog world have gone national, even global, and Establishment media players and marketers have no choice but to reckon with them." 

Tonight at Manhattan's McNallyJackson Books, comedian, artist, and author Damali Ayo conjures a magical world without racism, Obamistan, offering a tongue-in-cheek guide to the topsy-turvy world of "post-racial" America. 


David Grossman

Blurb busters: Nicole Krauss really loved fellow novelist David Grossman's forthcoming To the End of the Land, writing of the novel, "To read it is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being." Bloggers at the Conversational Reading ("The Painfully Wrought Blurb,") MobyLives ("sometimes, a blurb can kill you,") and Bookninja ("When Blurbs Bite,") are all crying foul over Krauss's "overwritten" praise, while The Guardian asks readers: Can you outblurb Krauss? Perhaps Paul Auster already has: "Flaubert created his Emma, Tolstoy made his Anna, and now we have Grossman's Ora . . . I devoured this long novel in a feverish trance. Wrenching, beautiful, unforgettable." 

A new study has found that people read slowly on tablets like the Kindle and iPad, compared to traditional print—a surprising conclusion—while also confirming what we already know: reading books on a PC monitor is a "miserable experience." Meanwhile, Slate offers a Bold Prediction: e-books will never replace real books.

The Association of American University Presses (AAUP) 2010 conference is on, with participants mulling over questions like: How did University Presses do this year? What Makes a Good Book? After a relatively rough year, director of Georgetown University Press Richard Brown puts things into perspective: "It's not crisis . . . It's perpetual transition. That's what we're in, and we'll be in it for the rest of our lives."


Google Editions, the top-secret, soon-to-be-launched e-book label, has just inked a deal with the American Booksellers Association to become the primary source of e-books on hundreds of indie booksellers' websites.

Our newest Poet Laureate, W. S. Merwin, has made a point of living a quiet Buddhist's life out in Hawaii. It's wonderful then to imagine him brandishing a beer bottle and fending off the Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa and his bodyguards as the Tibetan guru tried to force Merwin and a girlfriend to strip during a drunken party. That was the scene thirty-five years ago, in what has become known as "The Great Naropa Poetry Wars," detailed in Tom Clark's book of the same name. As Merwin later said of the incident, "I was not going to go peacefully . . . I started hitting people with beer bottles. It was a very violent scene." 

Bill Morgan, editor of the forthcoming volume Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters, chats with Granta about the process of editing the iconic duo and whether there are still any surprises about the Beat Generation to be found, and offers an online only excerpt from the book. 


Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin

The Library of Congress has chosen the oft-honored W. S. Merwin as the 2010–11 Poet Laureate. The eighty-two year old poet and translator doesn't fancy rousing himself from island life in Maui, as he told the New York Times: “I do like a very quiet life . . . I can’t keep popping back and forth between here and Washington,” though he told the Washington Post "I am very happy to do it at a time when there is someone that I respect so much in the White House." Known for his astute ecological poems, we wonder if Merwin's first official act will be to pen some venomous verse over the recent oil spill in the Gulf.

Brave new words: Inside Higher Ed's Scott Mclemee catches up the latest Twitter scholarship.  

Shelve your Strunk and White and yell "Yahoo!": The blogosphere is buzzing over next week's release of The Yahoo! Style Guide, which, among other things, has a primer on headline writing, and recommends keeping the idiosyncratic punctuation of companies and organizations—it's Yahoo!, not Yahoo.

As Amazon continues to battle with Apple in the ebook reader market, it has announced a new Kindle DX, slashing the price of the device to $379.


When J. M. Coetzee is smiling, the whole world smiles with him.

Vladimir Nabokov's writing career got its start while he was exiled in Berlin during the 1920s and '30s, when he "described how Berlin's 300,000 Russian émigrés endured life after the Bolshevik Revolution." Lesley Chamberlain parses the "artistically formative" years the great writer spent in the German capital. 

Final Cut: With the rise of multimedia in e-books and the ubiquity of tablet readers, will book editors become video editors?

At an apparently slow news day at The Guardian, the paper reports that the usually dour J. M. Coetzee cracked a smile at a recent writers' conference. "It was, admittedly, a brief smile."

Tonight at Brooklyn's BookCourt, Rick Moody reads from his forthcoming novel, The Four Fingers of Death, an epic about a disembodied arm (missing its middle finger), a doomed mission to Mars, and a lovelorn chimp. Reviewing Moody's latest in the summer issue of Bookforum (on newsstands now), James Gibbons writes that it is "here, in the intersection of narrative excess and genuine feeling, that Moody is at his most daring and arresting."


Ben Sonnenberg's window, from Matteo Pericoli's The City Out My Window

On the Paris Review blog, Lorin Stein pays tribute to the influential editor of Grand Street, Ben Sonnenberg, who passed away last week at age 73. Stein writes "Although Grand Street may never have had more than a few thousand subscribers, it was one of the great literary magazines of our time," and posts an excerpt from Matteo Pericoli's recent book of New York City views featuring Sonnenberg, who describes the vantage from his window with typical eloquence: "Fortunately for my wife and me, the modern buildings of Donald Trump, with their ugly fenestration and hostile immensity, figure only in the distance. The glory of our view is the lordly, moody Hudson River, much reduced here in the middle-right. For the twenty-seven years of our marriage this has afforded us sunsets that on some days are spectacular, on others merely beautiful."

Writer Elena Schilder went to a reading at McNally Jackson Books curious about Keith Gessen's looks, but became more interested in Elif Batuman as the night went on.

If you are lucky enough to get a copy of New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als's new self-published book, Justin Bond/Jackie Curtis, you'll find a slim, sharply designed, and engrossing text and photo tribute to the titular characters: drag performer Bond and Warhol superstar Curtis. Tactile and elegant, the book's fine design, confiding prose, and alluring photographs invite intimate engagement. Als starts each paragraph of the introductory essay with the refrain "It's the queers who made me," until the last graph, which pivots into "It's my queerness that made me," before invoking an emblematic memory of Curtis walking up Bank Street. Als's portraits of Bond aptly call to mind the aesthetic of Nan Goldin's photos—though with a more cheerful atmosphere—and are interspersed with archival stills of Curtis. Overall, it's an impressive mix of revelation and artistry, and with any luck, a book that will not slip into the privileged oblivion of the limited edition collector's item.


Feed Magazine co-founder Stefanie Syman

The early work of web stars such as Ana Marie Cox and Josh Marshall, novelist Sam Lipsyte, music critic Alex Ross, and Bookforum co-editor Chris Lehmann, as well as many others, has been put online at the Feed Magazine archives, an online webzine launched fifteen years ago by Steven Johnson and Stefanie Syman that ran through 2001.

The New Yorker's "20 Under 40" writers to watch list has been one of the biggest stories of the summer so far, but half the fun of the list is arguing about it. The latest counter-list comes from Dzanc books, who have polled "nearly 100 independent publishers, agents, editors, bloggers and reviewers," for their alternate list, but as Robert McCrum writes in The Observer "Leaving aside the taxonomic difficulties of cramming the next generation into a straitjacket, there are larger issues here . . . The onset of middle age, or the approach of oblivion, is perhaps as sharp a spur to literary effort as the intoxicating self-belief of youth."

Amazon has upgraded their e-books so that audio and video content is now playable on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, leaving the Kindle looking a bit obsolete, even as its price has been slashed to $189, and with Amazon offering refunds to Kindle's early adopters. Meanwhile, Moleskine, the hip notebook favored by every would-be author since Hemingway, has introduced a Kindle cover that allows you to scribble notes as you download books—or as you wait in line for your new iPhone.


Susan Orlean

On Tuesday, Susan Orlean posted a piece on her New Yorker blog about the publishing world, in which she identified everyone involved by letter instead of name (e.g. Editor A, Publisher W). The Observer thinks it has solved the puzzle, but is there a letter—or a number—missing?

The Authors Guild versus Google case continues to drag on, more than five years since it began, and four months since a final settlement was supposed to be reached. With so much time on their hands, the litigants may find diversion—if not solace—in reading Bleak House, available for free—and in full—on Google Books.

Abraham Lincoln was a gifted poet. At Slate, Robert Pinsky analyzes Lincoln's "My Childhood-Home I See Again." 

Tony Judt, a writer and scholar suffering from ALS, is "fast losing control of words even as my relationship with the world has been reduced to them . . . Though I am now more sympathetic to those constrained to silence I remain contemptuous of garbled language." In this essay on words, he recalls his early memories of listening to his relatives' articulate talk, laments the garbled professionalism of academic writing, and notes his children’s observation that today "people talk like texts." But Judt doesn't see language slipping into Orwellian newspeak, rather he worries over what he calls nospeak: "we speak and write badly because we don’t feel confident in what we think and are reluctant to assert it unambiguously."


Reagan Arthur

Follow the adventures of Reagan Arthur, Book Editor, on the Paris Review blog's Culture Diary. In the first installment of the ongoing journal, Arthur travels to Toronto, meets George Pelecanos, and then at 4:30, after reading some manuscripts, takes a well-deserved nap.

In Paris, the Shakespeare and Company festival drew about six-thousand people to a tent near Notre Dame last weekend to talk about "Storytelling and Politics," but all anyone really wanted to talk about was soccer, Lauren Elkin reports. Still, there was some literary chat—Martin Amis calling himself a “millenarian feminist” was perhaps the festival's most memorable quote.

Judging books and their covers: Sorting through more than eight-hundred entries, the design group AIGA has selected the winners of their 50 Books/50 Covers competition, choosing fifty outstanding covers and fifty beautifully designed books (Nabokov's Original of Laura, designed by Chip Kidd, took home honors in both categories, which seems to be the only thing that critics liked about the book). What's striking about the selections—apart from AIGA's predilection for retro and minimalist design—is the many independent publishers who made the cut; Tin House's striking cover for the novel Nov. 22, 1963, Melville House's searing one for The Blindfold Test, and Mark Batty Publisher’s prize for the book design of DIY Album Art, among others.

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