• October 10, 2013

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    The cottage industry around Emily Dickinson churns out diversions at a steady pace: A new photograph purporting to show the poet was unearthed last fall, theories about her love life appear with US-magazine like regularity, and a 2010 novel, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, attempted to channel the belle of Amherst and transform her into a book-club-ready heroine. As fun as these odds and ends can be, discoveries that shed light on Dickinson’s work—rather than on her persona—are rare. But The Gorgeous Nothings, forthcoming from New Directions, is just such a discovery, presenting facsimiles of poems Dickinson wrote on envelopes late in her life. The fifty-two envelope poems are reproduced full-size, showing both front and back, along with a transcription of each clustered jotting. Like Robert Walser’s Microscripts, which ND published in 2010, The Gorgeous Nothings works as both an engrossing visual treat and an affecting work of literature, giving us a keen and tangible sense of not only of Dickinson’s writing, but of how she wrote.

  • Is Stalin best understood as an editor? From the Chronicle of Higher Education: “Even when not wielding his [signature] blue pencil, Stalin’s editorial zeal was all-consuming. He excised people—indeed whole peoples—out of the manuscript of worldly existence, had them vanished from photographs and lexicons, changed their words and the meanings of their words, edited conversations as they happened, backing his interlocutors into more desirable (to him) formulations.”

    Josef Stalin, editor.

    Josef Stalin, editor.

    Bloomberg Businessweek runs an excerpt of Brad Stone’s The Everything Store, a forthcoming book about Jeff Bezos and the ascent of Amazon. Here’s a terrifying little nugget about the new owner of the Washington Post: “The one unguarded thing about Bezos is his laugh—a pulsing, mirthful bray that he leans into while craning his neck back. He unleashes it often, even when nothing is obviously funny to anyone else. And it startles people. ‘You can’t misunderstand it,’ says Rick Dalzell, Amazon’s former chief information officer, who says Bezos often wields his laugh when others fail to meet his lofty standards. ‘It’s disarming and punishing. He’s punishing you.’”

    Darryl Pinckney considers “the ethics of appreciation” in a lovely essay about Elizabeth Hardwick, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag and Hannah Arendt—the literary figures looming large in the days after Pinckney moved to New York to be “a mad black queen.”

    After years of contributing to the rise of childhood obesity and the hoarding of cheap plastic toys, McDonald’s is finally doing something good for kids: encouraging them to read. Under a new promotion, anybody who orders a Happy Meals will receive one of “four nutrition–themed original books for children” starring a dodo, goat, dinosaur or ant.

    In a controversial post on the Amazon message boards, Anne Rice suggested that well-written negative reviews are so difficult to pull off that writers who do should get paid.

    A Paris Review interview, her New Yorker short story archive, and a Millions introduction to her work: the quick and dirty guide to newly minted Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro.

  • It’s very popular to wring your hands over the death of the book (and the industries that go along with it), but publishing isn’t actually doing as badly as many people think, writes Evan Hughes at the New Republic. At the end of the day, books are still products that people want to purchase—in print or digitally—and the numbers bear that out. Since 2008, “e-book revenue has skyrocketed—by more than 4,500 percent. Just as important, the boom has come at surprisingly little expense to higher- priced hardcovers and paperbacks, sales of which are only slightly down.”

    Lore Segal

    Lore Segal

    Lore Segal talks death, fairy tales, and porcelain pigs with the New York Observer. For more on Segal, who escaped Nazi Austria as a child and went on to write numerous books (including the beloved satire of the writing life, Lucinella), read Emily Cooke’s review of Half the Kingdom in the latest issue of Bookforum. 

    Debut novelist Emily Schultz is learning the hard way—through a flood of negative Amazon reviews—that it’s not a good idea to give your book the same title as a Stephen King flop.

    Canadian novelist Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Described by the Swedish academy as a “master of the short story,” Munro announced her retirement from writing earlier this year after the publication of her fourteenth short story collection. And we hate to disappoint her 1,386 Twitter followers, but  Munro has most likely not signed up for the service. The Atlantic Wire speculates that the rather anodyne account is the handiwork of one Tommaso de Benedetti, “a Rome teacher and dad who has semi-successfully faked the deaths of Fidel Castro, Pedro Almodóvar, and the Pope.”

    After attending panels on “metadata, start-ups, supply chains, responsive content, libraries, bookselling, print business models,” and more at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Virginia Quarterly Review web editor Jane Friedman concludes that the most important thing booksellers need to be thinking about today is the future of self-publishing.

    In related news, a new survey by Bowker finds that more than 391,000 books were self-published in 2012—a 59 percent leap from the previous year.