A Penguin/Odyssey Editions title

Following Random House's e-book deal with Andrew Wylie earlier this week, Penguin is now negotiating with the super-agent about digital rights to books in Wylie's direct-to-Amazon Odyssey Editions. Insiders speculate that the deal with Random house nets up to 40 percent for backlist titles by Wylie's clients (a significant raise from the old 25 percent rate). According to the website The Bookseller, Wylie's DIY Odyssey imprint has been whittled down from twenty titles to seven—if negotiations with Penguin succeed, there will be only a handful of titles from his e-book gambit left.

Over at the Huffington Post, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner elaborate on their recent comments expressing anger over the clouds of fairy dust already being dumped on Jonathan Franzen's latest novel. The charge is that men—and so-called literary fiction—are catching a break in review-land. This, we think, is true. But another point: No writer can make people as angry as Jonathan Franzen does. 

On Janestown, the blog where "naval-gazing meets the cancan," Jane Harris has rounded up an eminent group of authors, editors, and critics to write about the great books they haven't finished reading. And while there are many of the expected difficult authors on the list—Pynchon, Musil, Gaddis, et al—there are also some eloquent quips about reading in general along the way; for instance, critic David Shapiro writes that "Good poets read diligently the infamous best works; great poets read what they need to grow and know," or our favorite, by novelist Jim Lewis: "I’ve read a lot of books: I don’t think I’ve finished any but the bad ones."

Tonight, Brooklyn's Greenlight bookstore is celebrating Archipelago Books, the indie-press dedicated to publishing great literature in translation, such as Norwegian author Karl O. Knausgaard's angelic novel A Time For Everything, collection of Heinrich von Kleist's eerie prose, and the journals of the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

Alberto Caeiro da Silva, one of Fernando Pessoa's many aliases.

Rick Gekoski's article about the Man Booker Prize gives you a real sense of the importance of British literary awards—or perhaps just the self-importance of authors nominated for them. Either way, the famously malcontent author Thomas Bernhard would have a field day mocking the pompousness (though he'd probably pocket the prize money anyway).

Music fans will have the satisfaction of seeing Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards read from his forthcoming autobiography, Life, at the New York Public Library on October 29th, leaving us to wonder not just how he's survived this long, but also how he can remember enough to write a book. Jay-Z will also appear in the library's hallowed halls this fall (on November 15th) to discuss his life-story, Decoded; hopefully, the rapper unburdened himself of at least some of his "99 Problems" through the catharsis of writing a memoir.

At Publisher's Weekly, Andrew Albanese asks how Google's unsettling shift on the issue of net neutrality will affect the pending Google Books settlement. Google has joined Verizon in advocating a tiered Internet scheme (where you would pay more for "premium" content), a sharp departure from Google's former stance of supporting a free Internet, and an apparent violation of its "Don't be Evil" policy. We can only speculate, but perhaps the free Google books would feature first-draft classics such as The Appeasing of the Shrew and Darn Good Expectations, while the premium version would have only "Better Book Titles." 

From Vivian Darkbloom (Vladimir Nabokov) to Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), we love a good pen name, but our passion for pseudonyms can't match Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese author who compiled seventy-two aliases. Flavorpill looks at Pessoa's work through four of his literary personas.

Andrew Wylie, photo by Eamonn McCabe

Standoff ends: It was only a month ago that literary agent Andrew Wylie, in a challenge to publishers who resisted negotiating new terms with authors over e-book rights, announced his own e-publishing venture called Odyssey Editions and offered exclusively on Amazon twenty backlist titles ($9.99 each) by his clients, including LolitaInvisible Man, and Portnoy's Complaint. Whether Wylie's move was a bluff, a taunt, or an earnest expansion of his business, Random House wasted no time in responding, ceasing all new English-language business with the tony lit agency. This was undoubtedly uncomfortable for both parties, and yesterday Wylie and Random House CEO Markus Dohle released this joint statement:

We are pleased to announce that The Wylie Agency and Random House have resolved our differences over the disputed Random House titles which have been included in the Odyssey Editions e-book publishing program. These titles are being removed from that program and taken off-sale. We have agreed that Random House shall be the exclusive e-book publisher of these titles for those territories in which Random House U.S. controls their rights. The titles soon will be available for sale on a non-exclusive basis through all of Random House's current e-book customers. Random House is resuming normal business relations with the Wylie Agency for English-language manuscript submissions and potential acquisitions, and we both are glad to be able to put this matter behind us.

So who conceded what? The phrase "differences over the disputed Random House titles" begs the question of just what this standoff was really about: backlist e-rights, or e-rights for new books? The answer is both, but the more pressing is of course those rights involving new business, and the publishing company's ongoing refusal to see e-books as subject to anything but traditional terms (unlike other houses). Now, Wylie has agreed to remove all but seven of its Odyssey titles from Amazon, and it's plausible that this was part of his plan all along: force the publishing giant's hand, and then shut Odyssey down. All in time for the end of summer.

Via Bookslut: Chauncey Mabe casts a cool eye on Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult's charge that the New York Times favors white men like Jonathan Franzen. Mabe explains that the Times actually trashed Franzen's last book. But his point that Picoult and Weiner should be happy with popularity (but not critical accolades) is intriguing: Isn't mass popularity one of the things Franzen rejected during the Oprah Winfrey debacle? Discuss.

In a new book review video, the Washington Post's Ron Charles delivers a parody of "hip" literary culture. It's kind of funny, but also a parody of how clueless book reviewers can be

The New Yorker Festival, which will take place between October 1st and 3rd, has started announcing its 2010 roster, which includes Stephen King (talking about the ongoing vampire craze), music critic Alex Ross (on bass lines), actor Patricia Clarkson, and filmmaker Werner Herzog. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Book Festival continues to build its stellar list of events: Sarah Silverman, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Joshua Clover, Matthew Sharpe, and Rob Sheffield DJing at the Bell House.   

John Ashbery

As the rave reviews of Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom, pour in ("Masterpiece of American fiction," "Novel of the Century," etc.) and the backlash begins (though you can't buy the book yet), Lorin Stein blogs at The Atlantic about what it means for the future of literary fiction (and the companies that publish it). Stein knows the territory well; he worked for Franzen's publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, for more than a decade before decamping to the Paris Review a few months agoHe writes: "In my 12 years at FSG, we saw publishers lose millions every season trying to corner the market on the Big New (preferably Young) Literary Sensation. Meanwhile really tricky, idiosyncratic writers—Lydia Davis, Denis Johnson, Elif Batuman, Richard Price, Sam Lipsyte, Roberto Bolano, James Wood, Hans Keilson—confounded even the most charitable expectations of the chains. . . . Now Franzen seems poised to do the same thing on a much, much bigger scale." 

This year's Brooklyn Book Festival events have begun to be announced; among the many highlights is a celebration honoring poet John Ashbery, who has won the fest's annual "BoBi" award, and who will appear on Sunday, September 12th in conversation with Paul Auster.

The Independent asks "when did we start reading so much popular philosophy?" From the veteran Alain de Botton, to the sleeper hit Philosophy Bites, from the columns of Julian Baggini, to a new series published by Wiley-Blackwell called "Philosophy for Everyone," it seems the love of wisdom is getting some love back. 

The legendary indie-rock label Touch and Go began as a fanzine in Lansing, Michigan in 1979, covering hardcore punk bands like Black Flag, Minor Threat, and Die Kruzen. The complete set of Touch and Go's xeroxed screeds, rants, and raves have been collected in a five-hundred-plus page bookTonight at powerHouse Arena there's a celebration of '80s hardcore with a dual book launch (Touch and Go and Why Be Something You're Not: Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985), signing, and a video screening.

“Buying literature has become cool again," proclaims Paul Levinson, a communications professor at Fordham, in a New York Times article about how e-readers are shattering the stigma of being a bookworm. A recent iPad buyer agrees: “It’s almost like having a new baby . . . people approach me and ask to see it, to touch it, how much I like it. That rarely happens with dead-tree books.”


New York magazine details the history of the ailing Barnes and Noble and the current behind-the-scenes power struggle between founder Len Riggio and his rival Ron Burkle to control its future. 

Have you ever looked at a white chocolate truffle and wondered: "What black arts could have stripped this chocolate of its natural hue?"  At McSweeney's Luke Burns has, imagining H. P. Lovecraft as a candy copywriter for Whitman's Sampler. 

Who are the world's highest paid authors? Don't ask—you probably already know.

Tonight, Taylor Plimpton reads from his new book, Notes from the Night, at Manhattan's McNally Jackson books—perhaps a precursor to another romp on the town and the makings of a sequel to Plimpton's chronicle of city life. 


Christine Schutt

Over at The Village Voice, Michael Musto devotes his entire column this week to his horrid situation with the publisher Alyson Books. Musto's Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back was supposed to be in stores on February 1st, but Alyson still hasn't published it, and hasn't been very forthcoming (at least not with Musto). We hope that Alyson, which is owned by Regent Media, sorts this out soon, because other books we're excited to read—namely Laurie Weeks's Zippermouth and Kevin Killian's Spread Eagle—are also in limbo.

"Get ready for ads in books," says the Wall Street Journal. The paper writes that ads in e-books are "inevitable." We can see it now, John Updike novels interrupted by plugs for Cialis, Candace Bushnell tomes peppered with even more Prada.

Want a chunk of literary history? How about J.D. Salinger's toilet? You know you want it.

The Awl points out that the opening of Jonathan Safran Foer's recent New Yorker story bears a lot of similarities to the opening of Jessica Soffer's Granta story.

Prose fetishists, mark your calendars: On October 6th, New York's Center for Fiction will host a panel discussion titled "On the Well-Tempered Sentence," which will feature Gary Lutz, Ben Marcus, John Haskell, and Christine Schutt.

Lydia Davis

Barnes & Noble put itself up for sale on August 2. Now, B&N founder and chairman Leonardo Riggio has bought 990,740 shares of the company's stock—apparently in "an effort to strengthen his voting position for a likely proxy fight."

English-speaking francophiles, rejoice: You can get a sneak peak at Lydia Davis's new translation of Madame Bovary in Playboy's September issue. According to a tweet by Hugh Hefner, it's "a great read."

Google Editions, which was supposed to make millions of books digitally available this summer, will now launch in the fall. Despite its seeming potential to demolish bookstores, Google has actually worked out a deal that could benefit independent booksellers. "The deal's success depends on consumers' willingness to purchase eBooks from their local bookstore rather than from a competing retailer such as Apple or Barnes & Noble." Count us in! 

What are we doing tonight? Joining all the sad literary young men and women in New York, of course. That's right, we'll be at the Gary Shteyngart event. He'll be reading from his latest, Super Sad True Love Story.

Frank Kermode

Literary critic Frank Kermode has died at the age of 90. Kermode penned more than two hundred pieces for the London Review of Books, beginning with the first issue in 1979, and edited and wrote dozens of books over the course of his distinguished career. The New Statesman writes: "Kermode wasn't just the finest literary scholar of his generation, he was also one of this country's most luminous practitioners of the higher journalism." His last book, Concerning E. M. Forster was reviewed in the spring 2010 issue of Bookforum.

In an interview with Big Think, novelist Rick Moody says that the economy is changing the face of fiction. "Writers are more desperate than at any time since I've been watching," he says. As a result, young writers are trying to write more conventional, easier-to-sell work: "You can try and write like George Eliot and you can potentially get published, but what worries me is you can no longer write like David Foster Wallace, perhaps."

At The Atlantic, Tim O'Brien meditates on what makes a good story. "To vividly imagine and to vividly render extraordinary human events, or sequences of events, is the hard-lifting, heavy-duty, day-by-day, unending labor of a fiction writer." Cleverness? Not so much.

And now for some good publishing news: Simon & Schuster has hired a new senior editor, Anjali Singh, who has worked with a number of adventurous and inventive authors, including Marjane Satrapi and Samantha Hunt.

The documentary based on Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner's bestselling book Freakonomics will be released on September 3, but you won't be able to see it in a theater until October. For the first month, the film will be available exclusively through iTunes. In other adaptation news, Jack Kerouac's Beat classic On the Road is being prepared for the screen. Viggo Mortensen will play Old Bull Lee, the character based on William S. Burroughs.

Elizabeth Bishop

Stephen Elliott has picked Jonathan Franzen's Freedom for his reading club at the Rumpus. The novel will go on sale August 28, and Elliott is clear about where you shouldn't buy it: "Books purchased from Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Amazon are ineligible."

Since Amazon opened its Kindle store in the UK in early August, ebook retailers there have entered into a price war. In the latest move, bookseller WH Smith cut the prices of its top 100 bestsellers by as much as 66 percent on its ebook site.

Joseph Young cranked out his new vampire novel, NAME, in a month. There's a reason he finished so fast: As he bluntly points out at the book's website, he wrote the book to pay his rent

Gary Lutz's bizarre and artfully contorted story collection, I Looked Alive, published in 2004 by Black Square Editions is hard to find unless you're willing to spend between $88 and $255 on Amazon. So prose fetishists will be happy to know that the literary magazine Brooklyn Rail (in conjunction with Black Square) is about to reissue this strange cult classic.

William T. Vollmann has written in Penguin 75 (an anthology of Penguin book covers from the past decade) about taking the photo of three naked women that graces the cover of his novel, The Royal Family. He took it at "a fine crack hotel of [his] acquaintance," he recalls, and later submitted an expense report to his publisher asking to be reimbursed for, among other things, "Four street prostitutes' modeling time @ $40 each." 

One of our favorite new finds at the excellent PennSound poetry archives: A recording of Elizabeth Bishop reading from Geography III, followed by an interview with Susan Howe.