Clark Hoyt

Reading the New York Times can be a soporific (#12) experience, but not when the paper mines its data for the fifty Most Frequently Looked-up Words of 2010. Philip B. Corbett, who is charged with pointing out slips of style, grammar, and usage in the Times with alacrity (#36), muses on some of the "fancy words" that appear in the paper, wondering if its readers know what the heck jejune (#25) means. Meanwhile Clark Hoyt, the Times public editor, departs with praise for the paper, despite having to settle solipsistic (#9) internecine (#11) squabbles between the paper's op-ed polemicists (#42) like Maureen Dowd, whose coining of the word baldenfreude (#6) puzzled nearly 5,000 Times readers. But as the Awl writes, complaining about the Times is a one-hundred year old tradition. You can look it up.

Perhaps you have always wanted to read the hefty 11th century novel The Tale of Genji, but the siren call of today's multi-platform media environment has driven you to distraction. Starting today, the Summer of Genji begins, with The Quarterly Conversation and Open Letters Monthly teaming up to produce a reading group website that provides moral support, commentary, and a discussion platform for readers of the 1,200 page novel.

If you're thinking of buying an ebook reader, you'd better get a lay of the land—the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad, and the Alex are all vying for attention, each with promises to improve your reading experience. If you're in publishing and want to cash in on newly entranced ebook consumers, start with GalleyCat's interview with Scott Lindenbaum, co-founder of Electric Literature, on building a literary iPad app. Just don't let anyone tell you that publishing is dying, "because they are reckless and hunting for headlines;" what we see now is only a snapshot of what is to come. 


Katherine Dunn, photo by Thomas Boyd for The Oregonian

Still a Contender: Katherine Dunn has a new story in the summer Paris Review, her first fiction since her Geek Love was nominated for a 1989 National Book Award. (There is also an interview at the blog.) Dunn has spent the past two decades immersed in the boxing world, researching for a follow-up book called Cut Man and reporting on the sweet science for various boxing magazines (collected in the volume One Ring Circus)When she's isn't slugging would-be purse snatchers or reviewing boxing books, Dunn is still at work on her follow-up novel, which she reports will soon be finished.

Stieg Larsson once sent two stories to the small Swedish magazine Jules Verne that have recently been rediscovered. Though the magazine rejected the stories at the time, they have since become hot property.

Literary scouts do not get merit badges for dealing with prickly publishers, exacting editors, or the tricky task of predicting which American book will be a bestseller abroad.

Grumbling about textbook prices—a longstanding campus tradition—may soon become history; for companies that rent textbooks to students, business is booming. And Inside Higher Ed reports that while traditional textbooks are still the norm on college campuses, e-books are often used in online education programs—perhaps a harbinger of things to come.


Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

The World Cup begins today in South Africa, and the New Republic has enlisted novelists, such as Aleksandar Hemon, authors like Tom Vanderbilt, as well as critics and TNR staff to detail all the action at their blog Goal Post. Of course there's more to life in South Africa than soccer, as novelist André Brink writes: "There's so much constantly to react to in the world in which we live, and in a country like South Africa, that can become a full-time occupation;" from Bookforum's pages, Jennifer Egan reviews Brink's 2008 novel Other Lives

The Wall Street Journal investigates how digital self-publishing is shaking up the book industry, while Slate recommends the The Shack, a self-published novel about God as an African-American woman, which has sold millions of copies.

Local bookstores build community, so we were saddening to hear that Politics and Prose, the iconic independent bookstore in Washington, D.C., has been put up for sale. 


Amin Maalouf

Are books the LPs of the future? "Of course, the book has been around a lot longer and is far more deeply entrenched in our vision of culture—both what it is and what we want it to be—than the LP, which turned out to be a disposable format, a means to an end. Yet what the digital revolution in the music industry shows us, I think, is that what people want is music: the format doesn’t matter nearly as much as the product." Do people, then, want nothing outside the text? Actually, long-playing records may be the literal future of books. And just like the passing of LPs signaled the end of the great album cover, the rise of the ebook will surely diminish the importance of book design. In the meantime, book designers shouldn't look to Google for inspiration.

Barbara Kingsolver avenges her loss to Hilary Mantel in the Tournament of Books by winning the Orange Prize for Fiction. We thought The Lacuna showed Kingsolver at the "top of her craft," and wished Mantel's Wolf Hall were "twice as long as its 560 pages," so we're glad to see them both honored. In other prize news, Lebanese-born Amin Maalouf, a writer who has tackled "thorny subjects in novelistic form for decades," is the recipient of the 2010 Prince of Asturias Award for Letters; past winners include Paul Auster, Günter Grass, Doris Lessing, Mario Vargas Llosa, Arthur Miller, and Susan Sontag. But don't expect Lionel Shriver or Martin Amis to send their congratulations.

Whether they're for or against prizes, writers shouldn't live to please their readers.

"As the adult-skewing drama becomes an endangered species at the studios, is there any hope for that venerable subcategory, the literary-book-to-screen adaptation?" Variety reports that Hollywood book deals have declined in the past year, and that literary fiction suffered the biggest drop. The news is not bad for all genres, though; action-thriller-suspense, kid's fantasy and—inevitably—vampire and zombie books, along with young adult books, saw increases.

The San Francisco Chronicle profiles one of our favorite online literary magazines, The Rumpus.


Brenda Wineapple

The New Yorker has anointed its twenty young writers under forty who "capture the inventiveness and the vitality of contemporary American fiction," and Farrar, Straus & Giroux has announced it will publish a paperback anthology of the chosen ones. How were they chosen? What are the stories about? Tainted love, mostly. What's the upside? Choire Sicha offers Ten Affirmations. The takeaway? Forty is still young when it comes to writing fiction.

Brenda Wineapple writes that American literature in the 19th century "speaks in the 21st in terms we have not yet abandoned for all our sophistication, technology, globalism, and panache."

A 2007 appearance of the late author David Markson reading at the 92nd Street Y from his The Last Novel, in which he wrote: "When I die, I open a bordello."

From The Nation, John Palattella on The Death and Life of the Book Review: "Newspaper books sections have been ailing for decades, but there's no better time than now for writing about books." (See above: as Sicha says, "You, just like the New Yorker, could have a million subscribers by the end of the month, if you wanted to. So get cracking, buddy.")

Tonight author Lev Grossman gets cracking, reading from his recent novel, The Magicians, in which Harry Potter meets Dazed and Confused.


The iBookstore is coming to the iPhone, expanding the e-book market to the pocket-sized device. If you put stock in Steve Job's iBook sales numbers, that's very good news for publishing. Yesterday's announcement of the iPhone 4 was measured in comparison to the frenzied hype that welcomed the iPad, since many of the phone's features have been known for a while—thanks to the checkbook journalism of Gizmodo, which purloined an early iPhone 4 prototype and produced the definitive guide to the gizmo. 

Literary mixes: New York magazine has asked authors to recommend books for the summer: "the perfect time to dig deep into books, classics and otherwise, you’ve missed." Australian novelist Peter Carey on historical fiction; cyberpunk William Gibson on science fiction; Kathryn Harrison on memoirs; SNL writer Simon Rich on humor; Otto Penzler (owner of The Mysterious Bookshop) on thrillers; and Rebecca Skloot on science—more than fifty books worth reading in all—including classics, recent volumes, and several intriguingly obscure titles.

Meanwhile, on the left coast, the LA Times has cobbled together its own list of essential reading for the summer.

FSG's reading series is back tonight, pairing Lydia Davis, known for her revelatory translation of Swann's Way, last year's collection of stories, and a forthcoming translation of Madame Bovary, with David Means, author of the recent story collection The Spot.


David Markson

This is Not an Obituary: David Markson has died at age eighty-two. Markson, who began his career writing off-kilter genre fiction, kept the unconventional novel alive long after '60s-era critics and readers had retreated to tamer stuff. In books like Wittgenstein’s Mistress (1988), Reader’s Block (1996), and The Is Not a Novel (2001), Markson achieved the grail so many American avant-garde novelists had sought: crafting radical experiments in form that were utterly compelling to read. His conversations about craft were almost as enthralling as his literary output, and proved inspirational for many writers daunted by the blank page (especially David Shields). Here's an interview between Markson and his publisher Dalkey Archive Press from 1989, another interview with Markson from Bookslut in 2005, and one from Conjunctions in 2007. The website HTML Giant has an open thread for Markson mourners. But perhaps the most moving Markson interview is this one from a 2008 edition of the radio show Bookworm, in which he chats about The Last Novel (2007), saying "What I do is essentially leave out most of the baggage of the usual novel: plot, character, dramatic incidents, dramatic scenes, which sounds as if there's nothing much left . . . conveying the nature of the artistic life, most frequently despairs and defeats or sometimes even rotten reviews."

From Times Higher Education: "Drawing the venom from the poison pen of rancorous reviews: Herminio Martins offers a threefold plan to bring order to the 'structural irresponsibility' of academic book reviewing." From Arcade, "If Professors are from Mars, then Journalists are from Pluto: People who cite Derrida often don’t know the work of James Wood, and those who love Wood can’t stand Derrida. Why the divide?" From Open Letters, again with the metacriticism? Time to get on with it: "It has been surprising and exciting to me to realize how blinkered I was about non-academic book culture, and chastening to realize how little use my own specialized reading has been as preparation to join in."

John Waters, who recently published a collection of essays about his heroes, Role Modelsoffers 10 Best Pieces of Advice for functional freaks, grants an interview at the NYT Magazine, and one at Salon

The Associated Press, arbiter of clean copy since 1953, has added a new section to its Style Book to accommodate newfangled terms such as "app," "blog," and "click-through," among others. Meanwhile, the Fake AP Style Book continues to amuse with its almost—but not quite right—proclamations on proper style.


Michael Silverblatt

Shakespeare & Company, the bookstore whose lineage stretches back to Sylvia Beach's 1919 shop, which first published Ulysses, is starting a literary magazine and a prize.

Twain saw being interviewed as torture, Hemingway found it akin to hand-to-hand combat, while Nabokov agreed only to be questioned via typewritten transcript (the better to polish his prose before it saw print). In Bookforum's pages, Albert Mobillio, introducing a section on interviewing the interviewers, wrote that interviews are a "high wire act for writers." Michael Silverblatt has been conversing with authors for twenty years, often provoking bouts of astonished silence in the wake of his lengthy questions. In The BelieverSarah Fay chats with Silverblatt, who talks about crying on-air, being intimidated by guests (especially Susan Sontag), and of interviewing Norman Mailer, who "was like a mellow bull in a pasture, with flowers wound around his horns."

new issue of Quarterly Conversation is out, including an essay on Reading Bolaño in Tehran.

"Seventy years ago, a publisher decided to distract children from the war with intelligent, affordable and beautiful books. It paid off handsomely" for Penguin Books, which is celebrating its young readers' Puffin Books's platinum anniversary this year. Perhaps you can't transform them into "nifty little seats," but Puffins can be found at some of the "best bookstores around the world." Bookstores not anointed into that select few can find inspiration at Bookshelf Porn, a blog of the world's "best bookshelf photos."

 


Maaza Mengiste. Photo by Miriam Berkley.

On Wednesday night, organizers of the Brooklyn Book Festival announced part of its 2010 line-up at a mingle that took place at stately Brooklyn Borough Hall. As publishing types mixed with writers such as Colson Whitehead, Chuck Klosterman, and others, Johnny Temple (the onetime Girls Against Boys bassist and editor of Akashic Books) introduced curators who named some of the writers confirmed for the fest. As always, it is a stellar bunch: Whitehead, Jonathan Lethem, Jennifer Egan, Mary Gaitskill, Joshua Clover, Rob Sheffield, Maaza Mengiste, Joyce Carol Oates, Dorothy Allison, Stephen Elliott and more. If you don't live in Brooklyn, book your flight now, if you do, clear your calendar for Sunday September 12th.

Though he decries the "relative ghettoization of non-paper technologies" at BEA, Brian Heater of PCMag says, "Let there be no doubt, the publishing industry is alive and well," noting the booming attendance at this year's conference. Scott McLemee pretty much agrees after returning from visiting another embattled faction at the BEA—university presses. 

What do thieves who prowl bookstore aisles like to heist? In the US it has long been standard protocol to stash Beat writers, Charles Bukowski, and, of course, Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book behind the counter, but what about in the UK, where Morrissey once sang "Shoplifters of the World Unite" (then later disavowed the practice)?


Mark English's illustration for John Cheever's "The Geometry of Love."

From the archives of American angst: The Saturday Evening Post has digitized and posted the 1966 John Cheever story "The Geometry of Love." Though the story appears in Cheever's Collected Stories, it is edifying to see a story by "the suburban squire" presented in its original context—a vividly illustrated Post spread, with its eyebrow-raising tag line: "How convenient to reduce your marital difficulties to a mathematical formula! How convenient—and how dangerous!" Though the Post jumped at the chance to publish the story, it was only after the New Yorker passed on it, with New Yorker editor William Maxwell viewing it as definitive proof that Cheever was in decline due to drinking. As Cheever ruefully wrote: "[Bill] looked at me sadly, patted me gently, said that the story was a ghastly failure and implied that I had lost my marbles."

Bret Easton Ellis wonders why there hasn't been a female Hithcock, Scorsese, or Spielberg, and posits a preposterous answer: that men are "aroused by looking, whereas I don't think women respond that way to films, just because of how they're built."

In an inaugural post on the Paris Review's new Daily blog, editor Lorin Stein writes "if the Review embodies a sensibility, this Daily will try, in a casual and haphazard and at times possibly frivolous way, to put that sensibility into words."

Walter Percy was never able to match The Moviegoer, instead penning the loopy Lost in the Cosmos, which is, as Tom Bartlett writes, "honestly great, or possibly terrible, depending on your level of patience for Percy's stew of literary high jinks," Ralph Ellison never published a follow-up to Invisible Man, though this year saw the posthumous publication of his unfinished second novel Three Days Before the Shooting . . . and don't ever ask Harper Lee about To Kill a Mockingbird.

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