paper trail

Nov 29, 2010 @ 9:00:00 am

Jennifer Gilmore

We were cheered to see Justin Spring’s Secret Historian, Jennifer Gilmore’s Something Red, Elif Batuman’s The Possessed, and many other worthy titles on the New York Times's 100 notable books of 2010 list. The omissions, however, were sometimes inexplicable (Tom McCarthy’s novel C), and often indicative of how unadventurous the paper of record’s books section is these days (nothing like Eileen Myles’s Inferno or Joshua Cohen’s Witz in sight). Reading the list, we wondered: Is there a Times quota for mid-century baseball biographies?

The first batch of Vladimir Nabokov’s love letters to his wife Vera have been published in the Russian magazine Snob (an English translation of the 300 letters will be published by Knopf in 2011). The letters include this charming description of celestial mischief: “Heavenly paradise, probably, is rather boring, and there's so much fluffy Seraphic eiderdown there that smoking is banned . . . mind you, sometimes the angels smoke, hiding it with their sleeves, and when the archangel comes, they throw the cigarettes away: that's when you get shooting stars."

James Wood’s professorial New Yorker article on The Who’s drummer Keith Moon—punctuated with memories of choirboy practice and paraphrases from Bataille on the constraints of office life—is a bit too stuffy and yet still oddly endearing. Moreover, it provides an excuse for Wood’s droll finger drumming podcast and this YouTube clip of the author jamming on his kitchen table with his kids cheering him on.

With memoirs by Keith Richards and George W. Bush on the bestsellers list, you’d be forgiven for wondering if ghostwriting has become a better gig than writing.