Deborah Baker

It seems like only yesterday that we were breathlessly speculating about the first iPad, but apparently it is already time for rumors about the iPad 2, which may be released as early as February 2011. Meanwhile, iPad magazine sales have dropped.

Blogger and Brooklyn bookseller Adam Wilson has landed a book deal with Harper Perennial for his debut novel, Flatscreen, which will be published in 2012. Acquiring editor Michael Signorelli explained the deal: “We became aware of Adam through his blogging and his stellar bookselling at BookCourt. Acquiring Adam’s novel is like a last-minute present to myself. This and last week have been so quiet, hardly anyone’s around to tell me ‘no.’”

The Rumpus has announced its latest book-club selections: You Think That’s Bad by Jim Shepard (February), The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch (March) and The Convert: A Fable of Islam and America by Deborah Baker (April).

The Met’s Department of Asian Art Chairman, J.C.Y. Watt, takes exception to Eliot Weinberger’s review of a recent exhibition, writing that the piece “brings to mind an Englishman a long time ago who, when taken to a fine Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong, could not wait to show off his sophisticated knowledge of Chinese cuisine and ordered egg Fuyung and sweet-and-sour pork.”

W. G. Sebald

In a fascinating literary homage, photographer Rick Poynor visits the town of Terezin in the Czech Republic and returns with an essay about W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, complete with contemporary versions of the photographs that appear in Sebald’s book.

At the Village Voice, rock writer Rob Tannenbaum names (and interviews) the best music critic of the year—well, “names” isn’t quite right. The award winner is anonymous; He files brief reviews on Twitter as @Discographies. Though short on words, his evaluations pack an expansive, acidic humor.

Novelist Benjamin Percy talks about his intense work ethic, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, grizzly bears, and his take on human beings: “I write about the man in wild and wild in man. I'm interested in these jarring intersections between civilization and wilderness. In a way, we are all hairy on the inside. So a lot of the stories are men and women on the edge, one wheel in the ditch, three on the road, trying not to lose control.”

The Feminist Press at CUNY is closing out their fortieth anniversary year with a fundraiser, and they’re two-thirds of the way to reaching their goal. Can you help put them over the top?

Denis Dutton, the author, philosopher, and founding editor of the pioneering web digest Arts & Letters Daily, is dead at age 66.

Denis Dutton

The third-generation Kindle has become’s bestselling product of all time, edging out the humble print version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos is touting the Kindle as the ultimate reading machine, saying of competitors such as the iPad: "Customers report using their LCD tablets for games, movies and web browsing, and their Kindles for reading sessions."

Christopher Hitchens denounces his old nemesis Henry Kissinger (and his apologists) in Hitchens’s new column for Slate, “Mr. Kissinger, Have You No Shame?”

2011 will mark the one-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Civil War, and there will surely be a flood of books published on the subject. We’ve seen an early copy of the Library of America’s The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It, a collection of first person narrative accounts, and we think it will be among the best of the new year. At Salon, Civil War historian Glenn W. LaFantasie picks his “Top 12 Civil War Books Ever Written.”

Jacket Copy offers “Five Literary Treats to Last All Year Long,” a collection of their favorite bookish websites, apps, and other delights, which have quickly become our favorites as well.

Julian Assange

New details of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s book deal have surfaced: The pact is reportedly worth 1.5 million dollars (with the majority of the fee being paid by his American publisher, Knopf, which is allegedly kicking in $800,000). However, it isn’t a tome that Assange relishes writing. As he insists: “I don't want to write this book, but I have to.”

Charles Baxter says the “most common mistake new writers make” is “vanity:" "They don’t realize that what has been blazing in their minds does not necessarily make it to the page.”

Did you think the holidays were (finally) over? You haven’t experienced the true spirit of the season until you listen to filmmaker Werner Herzog read this perennial Christmas classic: “‘Twas the night before Christmas, a season ruled by all-consuming desire or for the ‘perfect family experience,’ whatever the specifics, existential thirst is the engine that drives the holiday machine . . . ” (Via Harriet)

American Psycho, the musical?(!) According to the New York Post, Bret Easton Ellis’s once-controversial satire—about an impeccably groomed Wall Street serial killer with hilariously bad taste in music (unless, you like Huey Lewis and the News)—is heading for Broadway. We have just one modest request: Please dramatize the scene in which Patrick Bateman attends a U2 concert and hallucinates that Bono is Satan.

Kevin Morrissey

The Virginia Quarterly Review has just published its Fall 2010 issue, closing a painful chapter in the magazine’s history. The issue is dedicated to managing editor Kevin Morrissey, who committed suicide on July 30th. A subsequent investigation by the University of Virginia cleared editor Ted Genoways of allegations of workplace bullying, though it became clear that the office had become unpleasant and unduly stressful, with the audit recommending “appropriate corrective action should be taken with regards to [Genoways]." The VQR’s remembrance of Morrissey notes his key role in the magazine’s recent success: “The quality of the magazine was what [Morrissey] took most pride in. He was absolutely devoted to VQR. An unassuming man, he did not seek personal attention or glory. But without him—and we’re not sure many people know this—VQR would not be the magazine it is today.”

A stellar literary line-up is throwing “The Most Literary Rent Party Ever” early next year to benefit author Charles Bock and his family, who are facing financial trouble as Charles’s wife Diana battles Leukemia. If you can’t make the party, you can still donate.

The London Review of Books’ personal ads have always been among our favorite features of the magazine; a window into the soul of lonely British intellectuals, written with wry wit and a dash of poignant longing (e.g. “Attractive 40 something F seeks solid, suited, salaried M. Fortunately I am none of these.”) We are dismayed to hear that the LRB is discontinuing the randy and droll personals and we agree with The Guardian’s John Sutherland, who makes the case that the section should not be dropped.

Do we spy writer and editor extraordinaire (and Bookforum contributor) Ed Park in the just-posted photos from Open City magazine’s holiday party? Indeed, Ed can be seen reading his work along with Alissa Quart, to a crowd that includes such luminaries as Edmund White, Colm Toibin, and Open City editors Thomas Beller and Joanna Yas.

Alain de Botton

In the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein hired a calligrapher to write out the entire Qur’an in Hussein's blood as a proof of his piety (it took two years, and more than fifty pints of blood extracted by a nurse). Now, authorities in Iraq are wondering what they’re supposed to do with the thing.

News that Julian Assange is publishing a memoir with Knopf in 2011 has been leaked.

For The Awl’s “Best Women Writers that You’ve Maybe Never Read” series, Emily Gould writes about British fiction writer Barbara Comyn, finding that after reading her work “contemporary novels, with their over-deliberate virtuosity and self-referential tricks, are unreadable for a time. Ordinary experience, however, is overlaid with a degree of dazzle.”

Philosopher and author Alain de Botton has long been concerned with the practical application of philosophy, literature, and art. In the Wall Street Journal he writes about the current state of higher education: “To judge by what they do rather than what they airily declaim, universities are in the business of turning out tightly focused professionals and a minority of culturally well-informed but ethically confused arts graduates, who have limited prospects for employment.” As an alternative, de Botton and “a group of similarly disaffected academics” have started the School of Life in London, which teaches humanities courses such as “How to Make Love Last,” (on the syllabus: Anna Karenina and Erich Fromm), “How to Face Death” (Samuel Johnson, Luis Bunuel, Joan Didion), and “How to Fill the God Shaped Hole” (Augustine, Hume, Dickinson). De Botton declaims that “it is time for humanistic education to outgrow its fears of irrelevance and to engage directly with our most pressing personal and spiritual needs.”

Francine Prose

There’s been a flood of year-end best books lists lately, and we don’t blame you if you’ve stopped paying attention (especially since they mostly feature the same few books). However, there is one more list that may come in handy as you prepare for the holidays: 2010's Best Nonfiction For Winning Family Arguments.

On Sunday, Housing Works Bookstore cafe hosted a heartwarming three-hour marathon reading of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, featuring thirty authors including Mary Gaitskill (“I think people who think [Dickens is] corny just can’t read”), Francine Prose (“Here are all these people who could be out shopping for useless presents, and they’re sitting here, listening to Dickens”), and Patrick McGrath (“Dickens’s rhythms seem made to be read aloud . . . especially when he gets quite soppy—you can be bombastic with it”), whose mastery of English accents proved especially handy.

Author Larry Eisenberg has contributed more than eight thousand comments to the New York Timess website, on subjects ranging from Sarah Palin to Kool-Aid pickles. The best part? Many of them are Limericks.

It’s inevitable in New York literary circles to hear someone talk of quitting the daily grind and moving to the city “where young people go to retire,” Portland, Oregon. For those heading to the City of Roses, here’s a guide to Portland’s literary presses and a theme song to keep your spirits high as your employment opportunities dwindle.

Amy Hempel

From the Vice fiction issue, an interview with Amy Hempel: “I never liked the term 'minimalism.' I prefer Raymond Carver’s term. He called Mary Robison and myself 'precisionists.' And that’s what he was doing too, of course.”

It has been only a few days since Google announced their Books NGram Viewer, a tool that allows you to graph word usage over the years, drawn from millions of digitized books, and there’s already been a bit of NGram fever. Some of the most interesting inquiries have been posed by Slate’s Tom Scocca, who’s discovered when television became more popular than the bible (around 1967), and when anxiety overtook shame (1942), as well as other watershed moments in American vocabulary (1992: The year jeans surpassed trousers). But does the F-word reveal inaccuracies in the underlying data, causing skewed results?

If you haven’t picked up your copy of the new Paris Review yet, they have an irresistible new video trailer featuring monster truck-vocals, flashy graphics, and hilariously gaudy pyrotechnics; if that doesn’t convince you, they’ve also put together an Oprah/Franzen video that captures the epic scale of that recent reunion (Franzen is interviewed in the new issue).

At The Millions, New York magazine’s Sam Anderson gives us his Year in Marginalia, which he describes as “spontaneous bursts of pure, private response to whatever book happens to be in front of me. It’s the most intimate, complete, and honest form of criticism possible,” including candid off-the-cuff takes on passages from Point Omega (“right on the border of stoner existentialism”), The Lacuna (“I like this ending—don’t ruin it!”), and Freedom (“OMG! Rolling eyes so hard!”), among others. It’s the perfect capstone for the blog’s superb Year in Reading series, which we return to every day, despite our end-of-the-year-list fatigue. And, Melville House likes the idea so much they’re holding a Marginalia Contest.

Sheila Heti, photo from

The Observer investigates the curious lack of stateside interest in Toronto author Sheila Heti’s second novel, How Should a Person Be? (recently excerpted in n+1’s new issue, and only available from the Canadian indie-publisher House of Anansi Press.) n+1 co-editor Mark Greif wonders if the sex scenes in the novel are too frank, and adds: "If I had a publishing house, the first thing I would do is publish How Should a Person Be? . . . If a book like this, that is so visibly of our moment, can't be published in America, it makes me wonder, what do we even bother with literature for?"

Google’s Books Ngram Viewer allows users to search a collection of millions of digitized books to trace how words and phrases have moved in and out of favor over the years. For example, use of the word tofu saw a sharp uptick in the late 1970s and has died off considerably since 2001, while use of fascinating has remained fairly steady aside from a brief vogue in the 1930s. Wow! The greatest finding thus far, as Jacket Copy has discovered: “Love conquers all.”

Is your e-reader snooping on you? Most e-book devices can keep track of what you read, and (thanks to GPS) where you read it, but many of the devices’ manufacturers will not answer questions about how the data is used. The companies that will talk about privacy issues—such as Apple—offer unsettling answers, saying the data is sent to the company to “understand customers and customer behavior.”

An all-star chorus of authors, including Mary Gaitskill, Jonathan Ames, Francine Prose, Sam Lipsyte, and others will be reading at “What the Dickens: A Christmas Carol Marathon” at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe this Sunday. Drop in any time after 1pm to get your requisite dose of Dickens’s holiday tale read by a cadre of cheery literati.