Tom Bissell

Tom Bissell's new book Extra Lives is a treatise on the cultural significance of video games; though Bissell likens gaming to drug addiction, his cocaine turns out to be reviewer Dwight Garner's Ambien.

The blogging platform WordPress is "the 21st-century equivalent of Gutenberg’s printing press," making media stars out of writers like Justin Halpern, who tweeted and blogged his way to the top of the bestseller list from his parent's home, the latest in a string of blog-to-book deals

It isn't "the internet that threatens little magazines and journals . . . it's the waning of communities of readers," writes Overland editor Jeff Sparrow. So, what is the future for literary journals in an online world? One person to ask is Clay Shirky, who Publisher's Weekly calls "one of the digital age’s great thinkers." 

Online book clubs have been sprouting up all over the place this summer, and now The Rumpus is getting in on the act. The website is offering participants advance reader copies of forthcoming books for a small subscription fee, choosing Doug Dorst's The Surf Guru as their July pick, proving what the sages at the New York Times Business page have pronounced: "Yes, People Still Read, but now It's Social."

“Though the [scholarly] presses admit that many of them don't quite know what they're doing when it comes to e-books,” Jennifer Howard writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "they also know they've got to experiment."


Henry Roth

An American gripe: We've asked Henry Roth biographer Steven Kellman to comment on the recent articles in Slate and Harper's that object to the posthumous edits exacted by Willing Davidson on Roth's trove of archived manuscript pages (known as “Batch II”). In an email interview, Kellman, who reviewed An American Type for Bookforum, writes: 

“At Slate, Judith Shulevitz complains that An American Type reads too much like a New Yorker writer . . . The truth is that Roth was a New Yorker writer, not simply because two sections from Batch II appeared in the magazine in 2006 or because Willing Davidson, who edited An American Type, was an editor there. Four Roth stories appeared in The New Yorker while its author still lived.”

“In Harper's (registration required) Joshua Cohen perpetuates the myth of [Roth as] a Rip Van Winkle who suffered from 'a wasting mogigraphia lasting more than sixty years.' However, soon after Call It Sleep, Roth signed with Maxwell Perkins to write another novel. Though he produced scarcely one hundred pages of it, he continued writing steadily even after cremating some manuscripts. During the 'silent' decades, he published in the New YorkerCoronetCommentary, and The Atlantic.

“Attacking the narrative economy that Davidson, who added nothing, wrested from the mass of Batch II, [Cohen] the author of the novel Witzan 800-page labyrinth of densely packed prose, is conducting an argument with himself. Almost every manuscript—posthumous or not—undergoes some editorial ministration before appearing in print. 'Writers must publish and perish,' Cohen concludes, without acknowledging immortality as a motive for much art. 'Manuscripts don’t burn,' wrote Mikhail Bulgakov, whose novel The Master and Margarita was, like Emily Dickinson’s poetry, and Kafka's The Trial (and many others), published posthumously, to commence a glorious afterlife.”


The New York Times has been granted access to John Updike's archives. Among its many revelations is a letter that the nineteen-year-old Updike wrote to his parents: “We do not need men like Proust and Joyce; men like this are a luxury, an added fillip that an abundant culture can produce only after the more basic literary need has been filled. . . . We need great artists who are willing to accept restrictions, and who love their environments with such vitality that they can produce an epic out of the Protestant ethic.” The Times fawningly characterizes it as “a prescient formulation of what he would later achieve,” yet the real delight here is in seeing how Updike early on defined himself against the previous generation—high modernism—and thus staked out his literary territory (which will be thoroughly explored at the inaugural John Updike Conference, to be held this fall). However, as the Times writes, “at the time Updike’s work consisted mainly of cartoons and lighthearted prose and poetry he poured into The Harvard Lampoon, the campus humor magazine,” filling its pages with finely-turned fillips before moving on to write his Protestant Pennsylvanian epics, and the classic New Yorker stories that inspired twenty-eight-year-old Nicholson Baker to write this 1985 fan letter.

Gerbrand Bakker

Dutch writer Gerbrand Bakker has won the 2010 IMPAC prize for his debut novel, The Twin, published in the US by Brooklyn's Archipelago Books. Now that this season's awarding of literary laurels has concluded, catch up on all the winners at The Millions, who have updated their list of prizewinners.

Atlas Shrugged is coming soon to a theater near you, as it has finally begun shooting, but the question remains: Will it Be Worse Than the Book

In "An Author's Redemption from Ignorance," professor and author Barbara J. King sets out to explain what writers don't understand about publishing.


José Saramago

Hearing the news of José Saramago's passing today at the age of 87, we couldn't help but think of the author's playful parrying with death and immortality in his recent novel, Death With Interruptions, in which the reaper takes a vacation and causes people to live too long. As Jason Weiss wrote in his 2009 review for Bookforum, "the implications of life everlasting become evident, and the blessing begins to resemble a curse . . . [Saramago] refreshes the old trope of immortality by treating it as fertile ground for playing out his incisive variations, exploring not only our fear of death but our fear of life as well." 

Implementing an RSS reader can be an aggressive step towards organizing the glut of online information, but as the unread count grows, so does the anxiety—and culling feeds can be just as painful as discarding a book.

David L. Ulin, the LA Times book editor for the last five years, is moving from editor to critic.

Slow readers of the world unite! As we spend much of our time skimming websites, text messages, and emails, an English professor at the University of New Hampshire is making the case for slowing down to get more meaning and pleasure out of the written word. 

In the New StatesmanNadine Gordimer says “The World Cup is a big circus. . . . But literature, poetry, novels, stories—these are an exploration of life.” As the world focuses on South Africa for its football, Bookforum focuses on its literature: Lorraine Adams reviews Cion by Zakes Mda, Ian Volner reviews Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked by Ivan Vladislavic, Jennifer Egan reviews Other Lives by André Brink, Martin Puchner reviews Summertime by J. M. Coetzee and Siddhartha Deb reviews Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year, Mary Gaitskill reviews Agaat by Marlene van Niekerk, and Caitlin Roper reviews 117 Days by Ruth First.


When Henry Roth died in 1995, he left thousands of manuscript pages behind. The New Yorker published two pieces drawn from the trove, “God the Novelist,” and “Freight,” and a young fiction editor at the magazine, Willing Davidson, shaped the pages into the novel An American TypeAt Slate, Judith Shulevitz questions the posthumous edits, writing "the saddest ending of all would be if Roth's amorphous, neurotic . . . 'sense of life' was precisely what got polished out of his work." Meanwhile, at The National, Sam Munson calls Davidson's sculpting of the novel "heroic," while in Harper's (registration required), Joshua Cohen bemoans the "gentrification of Henry Roth."

Elizabeth Streb's Breakthru, 1997

As if the Paris Review's defeat at the hands of n+1 in softball this week wasn't bad enough, the Review blog's recap of the game is being called for a balk, as the Awl takes issue with their blog's "transgression of English."

A. M. Homes chats with the death-defying feminist artist Elizabeth Streb (including a video of Streb behind the scenes), whose "extreme action events" keep audiences wondering when they should duck; author Danielle Dutton reads from her forthcoming novel S P R A W L, and much more from the summer issue of BOMB. 

Tonight, blogger Maud Newton interviews novelist Sarah Waters, author of The Little Stranger.


To celebrate Bloomsday, Paris-based blogger Lauren Elkin chats with Keri Walsh, editor of the Letters of Sylvia Beach, and Sylvia Beach Whitman, heir to both Beach's name and (now in a new location on the Left Bank) her bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, which first published Joyce's magnum opus in 1922.

When Ulysses were first published in the 1920's, it was confiscated for being obscene. Ninety years later, Apple seemed to take the same tack, asking developers of an illustrated iPad Ulysses app to remove pages that contained nudity, before backing down, just in time for Bloomsday. Today is indeed the day to celebrate all things Ulysses, with Tablet sponsoring a reading featuring Joshua Cohen and Ben Greenman (among others), "putting the Bloom in Bloomsday," and Symphony Space is hosting Bloomsday on Broadway.

What Americans used to read: the Top 10 lists for the years 1990, 1980, 1970, etc., down to 1910.

We all know of the "Bump,” where authors see the sale of their books skyrocket after appearing on The Colbert Report. (Colbert also inspired the creation of Wikiality, "the Truthiness Encyclopedia".) Glenn Beck inspired his own "Beck Bump" after he talked on his show about what he described as “quite possibly the most evil thing I’ve ever read,” The Coming Insurrection, published in 2007, which shot up to #7 at Amazon and #14 at Barnes and Noble back in February after the show aired. Last week, Beck interviewed Colleen Sheehan, a professor in the department of political science at Villanova University, who published James Madison and the Spirit of Republican Self-Government. Expect sales of that book to climb this week, too. None of these books, however, will hold a candle to Beck's novel The Overton WindowUSA Today interviews Beck about the new book that has his name on it—but did he actually write it? In the interview he says, "there's clearly no way that I'm sitting behind a typewriter or word program and pounding this out. . . . I have my vision and need someone to make sure that vision stays there." Beck at least admits someone else wrote the thing; ghostwriting used to be book publishing’s dirty little secret

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