Luscious and lurid, a Charles Willeford paperback is a sure score whether found in a dusty attic or in an upscale Brooklyn flea market bin. Tonight, Thirty Days Gallery hosts a Willeford symposium. He was known for his crime novels, but wasn't afraid to delve into seedier territory. His 1988 autobiography, I was Looking for a Street, was recently re-released as a Picturebox paperback edition, emblazoned with both a Jonthan Lethem blurb and an introduction from Luc Sante. Resale rates must be skyrocketing; do we hear the Library of America calling?
Michael Foley, author of The Age of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes it Hard to be Happy, picks his top ten absurd classics. And if you're making must-read booklists, peruse our syllabi: Elif Batuman on Dangerous Friends, Sheila Heti on Secret Self-Help, and Louis Bury on Conceptual Poetry.
Bard of the postwar British working-class Alan Sillitoe has died at age eighty-two. Known for the novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958), and the story collection The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959), Sillitoe was pretty mad about being lumped in with the Angry Young Man brand of British literature. He'll be widely eulogized with a quote from the film version of Saturday Night: “Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not.” But it is an earlier line in that scene that's more expressive of Sillitoe’s art: "I'm not barmy, I'm a fighting pit-prop that wants a pint of beer, that's me. But if any knowing bastard says that's me, I’ll tell ‘em I'm a dynamite dealer. "
Heidi Julavits's significant object tells the story of a man who seems rotten to the core.
Catch up with Friday evening's LA Times Book Prize winners in Bookforum back issues; Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun, Rafael Yglesias’s A Happy Marriage, Philipp Meyer's American Rust, David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, and Linda Gordon's Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits.
“Sidewalk booksellers are an essential part of New York street culture, the intellectual wing of an alfresco economy that includes coffee carts, peanut roasters and break-dancing buskers,” writes Simon Akam as he sets out to find which titles are the best second-hand sellers.
Robert Service is not pleased with Orlando Figes's Amazon-rating shenanigans, as Service writes; "it's been quite a fortnight."
Jonathan Lethem has been tapped to fill David Foster Wallace's old teaching gig at Pomona College, while editor Sean McDonald, best known for his work on James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, is heading to FSG to take Lorin Stein's old job, as Stein helms the Paris Review.
Let the buzz begin; Tom McCarthy's forthcoming follow-up novel to his much praised volume Remainder, the one-letter titled C, has already caused a stir in the book world. That's in part because of Peter Mendelsund's striking dot-dot-dash book jacket. The Knopf designer chats with McCarthy and Casual Optimist blogger Dan Wagstaff.
Five Chapters has run an excerpt from Julie Oringer's forthcoming fiction, Invisible Bridge, every day this week. Now catch up on all five.
There are a bevy of book events on both coasts to keep bibliophiles busy this weekend. Out west, the LA Times Festival of Books has a stellar program planned, including "The Art of the Critic" panel, moderated by David Ulin and featuring poet and Bookforum co-editor Albert Mobilio, The Tyranny of Email author John Freeman, The Possessed author Elif Batuman, and Salon critic Laura Miller, author of The Magician's Book. Back east, The London Review of Book's 30th anniversary celebration in New York continues with "The Author in the Age of the Internet;" and starting on Friday in Brooklyn, 177 Livingston is hosting a three-day rereading of Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener," by the theater-collective Group Theory, featuring participants including Paul Chan, Lynne Tillman, and Vivian Gornick. We'd prefer not to miss any of them.
Tonight at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Joshua Ferris discusses his new novel The Unnamed with Daniel Menaker. Ferris, whose first novel, Then We Came to the End, won wide acclaim for its mix of office angst and first-person-plural laughs, takes a different tack with The Unnamed, a Beckett-esque fable about the perils of compulsive perambulation.
M. P. Shiel's 1901 work A Purple Cloud is puffy with purple prose, but oddly prescient.
Naked Launch: A frozen moment when you realize that the newly syndicated Barnes and Noble reviews on Salon might be a bit undercooked. Stefan Beck sends Naked Lunch back to the kitchen with a dismissive sniff, provoking scuffles in the comments section—many eloquent, some half-baked; De gustibus non est disputandum. As Charles Poole put it in his 1962 review, "in Naked Lunch . . . the insufferable prig and the insufferable sinner will find a forlorn meeting ground."
In the East African, John Mwazemba writes that for African fiction writers, "Fame and famine meet in an awkward embrace," while in the Daily Nation Evan Mwangi wonders why the region is still considered a "literary dwarf." Last year, James Gibbons explored "a superabundance within the continent’s many literatures," but found that "it is a literature largely of displacement and exile." In South Africa, The Independent proclaims that writers "have discovered levity in the face of gloom, reflecting both the country's dysfunction and its promise."
"Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company," Mark Twain quipped; we wonder who he's hobnobbing with today, the centenary of his death. Twain, a high school dropout, draft-dodger, and rascal to the last, was not just any American, he was, as he liked to say, "the American.”
From Collier's Weekly, a 1910 verse account of his last day, and from the New York Times, an absorbing display of his library, where you can peruse his acerbic marginalia. Equally cutting is Gary Indiana's take on recent books about Twain's last decade.
Twain biographer Ron Powers writes of how a chance encounter with a fourteen year-old girl named Laura Wright enchanted Twain for the rest of his life. Elsewhere, PETA details how Twain was among the first notable animal rights activists, and the San Francisco Chronicle offers a roundup of new Twain titles.
And there's Twain's autobiography to look forward to, dubbed the "blackmail dossier," and said to run at nearly 5,000 pages, it will soon be published for the first time by the University of California, now that Twain's command for a one-hundred year embargo has expired.
You will never be able to do this with a Kindle, though we invite you to try.
This year's feel good story for indie-publishing, the success of small-press book Tinkers, which had a 2000% sales bump this week after winning a Pulitzer, makes Slate's Marion Meaker feel piqued; to him it illustrates "the failure of independent bookstores and their complete loss of traction in the marketplace."
Victor Lavalle reads a piece about long-distance love from Granta's sex issue, which arrives in bookshops this week.
This airborne toxic event is giving the London Book Fair the doldrums
Ask your barista for a triple grande Balzac: the author had a "horrible, rather brutal method" for overcoming writer's block—a coffee creation so sinister that he recommended it "only to men of excessive vigor" (it eventually killed him). Elsewhere in Lapham’s Quarterly, a visual guide to the stronger stuff writers imbibed.
Cory Doctorow asks, "can you survive a benevolent dictatorship?" You'd think he was talking about politics; but, alas, it's just another iPad story. Following his recent blog post, "Why I won't buy an iPad (and think you shouldn't, either)," Doctorow warns netizens of the dangers of Apple's hardware lockdown.
If you've had you're fill of internet iPunditry, skip the online version of the New Yorker's plush iPad profile and read the print version (on newsstands now). Though the story is already cold—it is the new iPhone that's heating up the web just now—the piece deserves serious reading-lamp-and-ottoman-style attention. Then, wander back to the screen and surf over to the magazine's online book club, where at 3pm today David Vann will live-chat with readers about his buzz-worthy book Legend of a Suicide.
Writing life in New York City
Was Proust "mentally defective"? (Evelyn Waugh thought so). Baudelaire called Voltaire "the king of nincompoops," and Nabokov once wrote of Hemingway: "I read him for the first time in the early 'forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it." Compared to this compilation of writer-on-writer cracks, the press drubbing that Yann Martel has lately been enduring seems tame.
The long-vanquished Brits have a bit of fun at our first president's expense: "Founder of a nation, trouncer of the English, God-fearing family man: all in all, George Washington has enjoyed a pretty decent reputation. Until now, that is."
Publisher's Marketplace reports that Thomas Frank has just sold a book about 2010's Conservative resurgence (registration is required to read PM's brief). However, we're pretty sure the new book won't be called The Diagnosis of Small Pox, the most recently published "Thomas Frank" book available on Amazon.com, though that book's prognosis for the affected populace is probably alarmingly similar.
Adam Gopnik (quoting Updike) once compared the writing world of New York to life aboard the "Raft of the Medusa," but it can't be that bad. Consider mid-April's PEN American Center World Voices Festival, a reason to love the city this spring, as it hosts the world's best literary scribblers. If you can manage to stop scrolling through PEN's free and engrossing iPhone App, you may just meet someone you love to read.
This weekend, delve into UbuWeb's recent addition to the William Burroughs sound archives, 1965's "Call me Burroughs," as well as the audio collection of his buddy Brion Gysin's work. Just be sure you have some time on your hands; this stuff is about as addictive as the smack Burroughs preferred.
Don't make me come back there: When the New York Times's star columnists squabble, Clark Hoyt settles the score.
We'd love to curl up with Earth is a Blue Pearl, and the other classics created by author Douglas Coupland for his new project: to explain 2010 to someone in 1935, by inventing a classic Penguin book cover. And in true 2010 style, Penguin lets you play along; there are templates to create your own cover, and a gallery to see what others have made.
Next week, The London Review of Books celebrates its 30th anniversary in New York, with events including Tariq Ali on "Obama's War," Jacqueline Rose on the Dreyfus affair, and a panel on "The Author in the Age of the Internet;" featuring John Lanchester, Andrew O’Hagan, Colm Tóibín, Mary-Kay Wilmers and James Wood.