Peter Beinart continues to assail Israel's leadership and its American supporters in an article condemning yesterday's flotilla raid, which killed nine people and resulted in the arrest of more than six hundred activists (including Swedish writer Henning Mankell). Israel and American Zionism are topics conspicuously absent from Beinart's new book The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris (reviewed in Bookforum by Jim Sleeper), but Beinart has had a lot to say about them recently.
Nay Phone Latt
Blogging can be dangerous, at least according to Burmese authorities, who have imprisoned Nay Phone Latt for his posts; poets are still suspect, too—Saw Wei, who was locked up in Burma for writing a poem, has finally been released after more than two years in prison for "inducing crime against public tranquility" with his verse, which had “General Than Shwe is crazy with power” encoded within the poem.
I got a scheme—for a magazine! The beginnings of what Philip Roth dubbed "an imaginative assault upon the American experience" are detailed in an excerpt from a new history of Commentary, showing how early pieces in the magazine, from the likes of Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, and Roth, "helped forge a new literary temper," and "acted as a greenhouse for a new style of literary criticism . . . incubating the first generation of critics to grow from America’s working class."
I'm feeling lucky: novelist Geoff Nicholson writes that "ideas of what’s worth knowing, and even what’s interesting, are constantly changing," and dusts off his "outdated books of supposedly impartial information," such as the flashlight-worthy Guinness Book of Records and the ultimate unimpeachable source, the Encyclopedia Britannica, as well as the wonderfully-named—and almost certainly not pocket-sized—Everybody’s Pocket Companion: A Handy Reference Book of Astronomical, Biblical, Chemical, Geographical, Geometrical, Historical, Mathematical, Physical, Remedial, and Scientific Facts, Dates Worth Knowing, World Sports and Speeds Records, Mythological, Physiological, Monetary, Postal and General Information.
BEA rolls out of town
As BEA wrapped up last week, Carolyn Kellogg observed that at an Expo aglow with iPads, it was "telling that the hot trend for fall books is dystopian fiction." Why is the dystopian novel experiencing a renaissance in Western literature after its absence for the past few decades? In an essay in Bookforum's summer issue, Keith Gessen tracks dystopia from Orwell and Huxley to Tumblr and Facebook (including a saga that peaked on the web platform Plurk), writing that the Internet has "brought into being one of the fears common to most dystopian novels and developed with some detail in 1984: that everyone would know what we were thinking. Except unlike in 1984, it's been done entirely voluntarily, through blog posts, Facebook updates, and, of course, Plurks."
Screens of Glass: Whitmanesque poets, conspiracy theorists, and unheralded Great American Novelists take note; Apple will allow self-published books in their iBookstore. But as always with Apple, there's a catch—the book must be encoded using a newish Mac.
With the constant stream of talk about iPads, Kindles, Nooks, and the like it is easy to forget that e-books' place in the future of reading depends entirely on e-bookstores, and with Google joining the fray, the forecast is still cloudy.
The Guardian's Hay festival is just getting underway in the UK—follow all the action on the paper's festival page. Sunday's buzz was created by Pakistan's former president, Pervez Musharraf, who campaigned for a return to office, boasting of a sizable Facebook following.
The march of Penguin: the publisher has finally reached an agreement with Amazon to get their books on the Kindle.
As BEA ended yesterday, the Expo's director announced that it will go back to a three-day format next year. That's good news for international attendees, who find that two days just isn't enough time, and good news for those fed up with the crammed main aisles, though there was one place to get away from the jostling crowds—the eerily quiet Digital Book Zone. At New York magazine's Vulture blog, Boris Kachka detected a "dystopian mood of the attendees and the panels," but the mood was lighter at Thursday's breakfast hosted by Jon Stewart, who kept the audience laughing with zingers, especially one directed at some long-winded advice seekers during the audience Q&A: "Does anyone have a question where we don't end up having to help you people?"
Caustic book critic James Morrison chats with Flavorwire about the best and worst in book cover design.
Despite spotty Wi-Fi, anxiety about publishing's future, and the appearance of an aged Rick Springfield, BEA was bustling on Wednesday. In the cavernous Javits center, galleys were distributed, deals were struck, catalogs thumbed through, and business cards swapped, with Wiley providing cups of free beer to help grease the wheels. The New York Times noticed a "certain frenzied feel," about the conference, while GalleyCat made the rounds at the day's book parties, affirming Harold Underdown's much repeated tweet: "After two hours of pushing through the crowds at #bea10, I have reached a simple conclusion: print book publishing is far from dead."
Folksy raconteur Garrison Keillor holds the opposite view: "Call me a pessimist, call me Ishmael, but I think that book publishing is about to slide into the sea;" Flavorwire has collected quotes responding to Keillor's Chicken Little moment.
"Some of us have wondered whether university presses were going to survive in the digital age," writes Stan Katz in The Chronicle of Higher Education, "but most universities have not abandoned their presses." Southern Methodist University Press suspended its operations, but others, such as Princeton University Press, are thriving. Inside Higher Ed's Scott McLemee reports that while many university presses are at this year's BookExpo, others are "rethinking how they approach the publishing industry's biggest shindig," noting that The University of California Press, Temple University Press, MIT Press, and The University of Chicago Press (among others) don't have booths this year.
Exit Index: Total number of editors jettisoned
from Harper's in 2010: no less than 5. The magazine has announced the departure of two more top-of-the-masthead staff.
GalleyCat prowled the halls of the Javits Center on Tuesday, wrapping up the day's BookExpo events, while its companion blog eBookNewser detailed the conference's digital news. The Constant Conversation sent this downbeat dispatch to booksellers: "we’re not asking you to save us; we’re asking you to save yourselves," while Publisher's Weekly reported from BEA's DIY conference. At the LA Times Jacket Copy, Carolyn Kellogg summed up the morning's contentious panel discussion about e-publishing this way: "The vicissitudes of e-books and digital publishing are a thing to be weathered, not celebrated."
If you're at the the Expo today, visit Bookforum's booth and pick up a copy of our hot-off-the-press print issue.
Yesterday we warned you about scurrilous scare quotes; today we alert you to another fearsome punctuation mark, the frequently misused hyphen, along with other missteps from recent New York Times stories. The Times's After Deadline blog faithfully points out the paper's flubs, but it can take persistent phone calls, emails, blog posts, and eleven days to get a simple mistake corrected in the Wall Street Journal.
Minor errors in style, spelling, and usage should be shrugged off—it happens to the best of us—but Scott Mclemee finds the "rewriting" of history in a press release for the forthcoming book 1877: America’s Year of Living Violently by Michael A. Bellesiles to be a "masterpiece of evasion," and fills in the backstory of Bellesiles's slide into disrepute.
Tonight at powerHouse Books, it's time to Tweet Up and meet your Twitter pals face-to-face.
Greil Marcus kills scare quotes dead.
BEA can blur past faster than a Kindle page-turn, leaving the bookish with the uneasy feeling that they've missed something, but now they can map the three day publishing maelstrom in advance with My BEA Show Planner.
"We" would like to "inform" you that scare quotes are "frightening," just "say" what you "mean." Greil Marcus, who recently co-edited the exhaustive A New Literary History of America, found scare quotes—"a narrative disease"—scattered throughout the more than two-hundred essays in the collection, and sees them as "a matter of a writer protecting himself or herself." When Marcus asked contributors if he could rid their texts of the protective punctuation marks, "they said, over and over, yes. It was as if we were disarming them of a weapon they had aimed at themselves."
Surely, there is a middle ground between paper and plastic: while plastic-based reading is advancing in these Silicon Valley-driven times, Stanford University may be a bit too early with its plans for a bookless library. Reference books are able to mix apps and digital content with quirky print titles. Even as rare book dealers become rarer, there are calls for those "who love books as beautiful objects of cultural history" to embrace digital publishing, because if you can't beat 'em, plug in.
The New York Review of Books weighs in on the iPad Revolution, explaining how readers get hooked: "one day, you find yourself housebound, and Wolf Hall has just won the Booker Prize, and you download a sample onto your iPhone, and just like with a book printed on paper you are pulled into the story and are grateful to be able to keep reading, and your resistance disappears."
Is the fierce hacker of the Steig Larsson trilogy a grown-up Lolita? As readers of Nabokov's classic know, Lolita (a.k.a. Mrs. Dolly Schiller) died in childbirth after she was freed from Humbert Humbert's lecherous hands, but if she hadn't, it is hard to imagine her fighting back as viciously as Lisbeth Salander. Thomas Matlack finds that Salander's revenge on her male tormentors may be what makes the Larsson trilogy so intriguing—it isn't the clock-work plots or flat-footed writing—and that Lisbeth's liberation "frees us all of the sexual exploitation that has come to plague not only the news headlines but our very lives." We imagine Nabokov chuckling at Lolita being drafted in service of Matlock's earnest argument, and we think he’d shudder at the comparison of Salander with his beloved Lo, as he once said, "There are some varieties of fiction that I never touch—mystery stories, for instance, which I abhor."
J. G. Farrell
Bookforum's new summer issue maps utopia, and though the word means "no place" in Greek, that absurdity hasn't inhibited a great many dreamers and schemers: History is littered with attempts to realize some portion of heaven on earth, and literature is rife with depictions of worlds gone right and worlds gone very wrong.
When he died in 1979, J. G. Farrell was hailed as his generation's greatest historical novelist. Thirty years later, the view still holds, at least among the judges of the "lost" Booker award, who granted the prize to Troubles, his wicked 1970 satire of Anglo-Irish relations set during the Irish War of Independence. Matthew Price, writing in Bookforum's fall 2005 issue, found Troubles to be "madcap and blackly comic, shot through with piercing evocations of the Irish landscape."
"If you want to know who might be running for president from the GOP side just check your local bookstore and see who has new books on the shelf," writes Robert Guttman, director of the Center on Politics and Foreign Relations, listing the recent and future publications from the leading lights of the Grand Old Party. The Democrats have an incumbent running in 2012, but that doesn't mean they're not in on the act; Obama book deals are booming, with nine more volumes in the works. Not all political memoirs are meant for the campaign trail; every first lady since Lady Bird Johnson (except Pat Nixon, who was, of course, a special case), has written one, including Laura Bush's new Spoken form the Heart, a "pleasantly soporific" read for sleepless nights.
Bookselling behemoth Barnes & Noble is re-examining its business model as well as entering the self-publishing business with the summer launch of PubIt!, which will allow independent publishers and self-publishing writers to distribute their works digitally.
Stephen Fry, best known for playing the part of Wodehouse's Jeeves, who is now the "king of Twitter," will judge the Guardian Hay festival's Twitter competition for "the most beautiful tweet'" ever written, but he better watch out for the scarlet letters "RT," because retweeting might prove to be plagiarism.
Robert Walser's microscripts
Rock, paper, Twitter: Christopher R. Weingarten plans to be the Last Rock Critic Standing, but it sure isn't easy. Weingarten tweeted more than one thousand reviews last year, wrote for the Village Voice and rollingstone.com, produced a book, and often contributes to online music message boards, though he thinks the Internet is diluting serious music and criticism: "We all wanted to democratize art. And now that we did, nobody’s making money off of art, and art’s not as good.”
Robert Walser found the sound of pencil on paper to be soothing, and scratched out stories in a minuscule script on scraps of paper, the backs of envelopes, and calendar pages. He said that using a pencil freed him from what he called "pen malaise." City Lights has collected twenty-five of Walser's mini-masterpieces, which took scholars decades to decipher, and reproduced the original manuscripts along with translations of the large-hearted stories within. Tomorrow evening at 177 Livingston, Triple Canopy is hosting a reading of Walser's Microscripts by translator Susan Bernofsky and writer Rivka Galchen.
Touchy typing: Author Skye Ferrante was ejected from the Writer’s Room in Greenwich Village he's been a member of for six years for the transgression of using a typewriter. Apparently, the bang and ding of the anachronistic machine offended the delicate sensibilities of those whose fingers trip lightly on laptop keys (but what about the pinging of all that incoming email?). As the Room's executive director explained, "no one wants to work around the clacking of a typewriter." We wonder if the Writer’s Room would have the heart to kick out Brooklyn superstar author Paul Auster, who still bangs out fiction on his trusty Olympia, and whose devotion to the machine even inspired the book The Story of My Typewriter. And is it only a matter of time before the click of laptop keys and trackpads is considered a racket compared to the tap of a touch screen?