• October 21, 2013

    Junot Diaz and Maya Angelou were among the writers honored at the fifth annual Norman Mailer Center Benefit Gala this week. The awards celebrate authors at various stages of their career, not all of whom were particularly fond of the event’s namesake: “I am still at odds with Mr. Mailer,” said Angelou. “If we had talked together, we would not agree. But he writes so well.” And Junot Diaz, when asked what Mailer’s work means to him, said: “It depends on what Mailer we’re talking about.”

    When the Leo Tolstoy State Museum put out a call for volunteers to proofread 46,800 pages of the master’s work, it got an overwhelming response: three thousand Russians volunteered their services. The readers finished in two weeks, and now, almost all of Tolstoy’s work, including “novels, diaries, letters, religious tracts, philosophical treatises, travelogues, and childhood memories,” will soon be available online.

    Alice Munro

    Alice Munro

    On his blog, sci-fi writer Charlie Stross conducts a thought exper­i­ment: “what would be the con­se­quences if a large inter­net cor­po­ra­tion such as Google were to buy the entire pub­lish­ing industry?” He considers that for around $10 billion a year, Apple or Google could “pro­vide free pub­lic access to [about 300,000 commercial-quality e-books per year] in return for a roy­alty pay­ment to authors based on a for­mula extrap­o­lat­ing from the known paper sales, or a flat fee per down­load; or they could even put the authors on pay­roll.” What would that do to the publishing industry?

    Bloomsbury is launching a new imprint dedicated to popular science. Sigma will release fifteen books a year on topics from robotics to evolutionary biology, and will be edited by Jim Martin.

    What does Alan Greenspan have in common with Michel Houellebecq? A book title.

    Alice Munro is too sick to travel to Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy announced this week. “Her health is simply not good enough,” Academy head Peter Englund wrote in a blog post. “All involved, including Mrs. Munro herself, regret this.” At 82, Munro no longer writes but did say earlier this year that she’s “becoming more sociable.”

  • October 18, 2013

    At Page Turner, Richard Brody wonders why Norman Mailer never wrote “the book that he was born to write—the bildungsroman of a Maileresque boy in Brooklyn in the nineteen-thirties.”

    Early reviews are in for Morrissey’s long-awaited autobiography, and they’re all over the map. The Telegraph delivers a rave, praising the book’s “beautifully measured prose style” (and calling it “certainly the best written musical autobiography since Bob Dylan’s Chronicles”), while The Guardian is less convinced. “For its first 150 pages, Autobiography comes close to being a triumph,“ writes John Harris, “but after pages and pages of moaning, it all starts to pall…. Moreover, a pattern is set: any calamity or mishap is always someone else’s fault.”

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    We’d be curious to hear what the outspoken Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher thinks of Morrissey’s book. In an interview with GQ, he shares his thoughts about books, saying that he’s not fond of “the Rubik’s Cube of shit [book] titles” out there nowadays, the insufferable intellectual pretensions of anybody who reads, or attending book signings.

    The Nobel Prize Foundation is running out of money: According to Bloomberg, the organization “is now considering charitable donations after previous strategies failed to bring in enough money.”

    Courtesy of Business Insider, here’s a nifty infographic of the most famous books set in every state. There’s a real range: New York gets The Great Gatsby, New Jersey gets Junot Diaz’s Drown, and South Dakota gets Tom Brokaw’s A Long Way From Home.

    Authors of self-published erotica are striking back at efforts by Amazon and other e-book retailers that want to remove content that deals with rape, incest, and child pornography. On Wednesday, a petition appeared on Change.Org protesting the move. “There is a LARGE amount of people who read this genre as a way to escape their reality,” wrote a poster called “Mlstress Renne.” “We are all consenting adults, you need to own a credit card to be able to purchase said books, so why all of a sudden start ‘cracking down’ on controlling such. Why is okay to sell ‘adult products’ on said websites but not FICTIONAL reads. What happened to freedom of speech?!”


  • October 17, 2013

    The finalists for the 2013 National Book Awards have been announced. In fiction, they’re Rachel Kushner for The Flamethrowers, Jhumpa Lahiri for The Lowland, James McBride for The Good Lord Bird, Thomas Pynchon for Bleeding Edge, and George Saunders for Tenth of December. In nonfiction, they’re Jill Lepore for Book of Ages, Wendy Lower for Hitler’s Furies, George Packer for The Unwinding, Alan Taylor for The Internal Enemy, and Lawrence Wright for Going Clear. The rest of the nominees are available here.

    Courtesy of The Onion: “10 Sandwiches that Look Like British Novelist Martin Amis.”

    In an interview with the Guardian, recently minted Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton discusses the role that gender plays in how writers are received: “I have observed that male writers tend to get asked what they think and women what they feel. In my experience, and that of a lot of other women writers, all of the questions coming at them from interviewers tend to be about how lucky they are to be where they are…The interviews much more seldom engage with the woman as a serious thinker, a philosopher, as a person with preoccupations that are going to sustain them for their lifetime.”

    Mary Gaitskill

    Mary Gaitskill pens an open letter to The Rumpus in response to Suzanne Rivecca’s essay “What Men Talk About When They Talk About Mary Gaitskill,” which targeted “male super-bitches” James Wolcott and William Deresiewicz for attacking her work on the basis of gender. In response, Gaitskill writes, “opinions about my work vary wildly, but I haven’t observed that it’s predictable along gender lines, and in truth some of my best support has come from men.” For more of Gaitskill’s thoughts on gender, read her essay on Gone Girl for the fall issue of Bookforum.

    Journalists: They’re not only expected to write anymore. An article in Forbes details their new responsibilities: “like members of a youth basketball team raising money for a trip to nationals, staffers at The New Republic have been hawking subscriptions to their friends and family members for the past two weeks as part of an intra-office contest.”

    The Telegraph excerpts Donna Tartt’s latest novel, The Goldfinch.


  • October 16, 2013

    Eleanor Catton has won the Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries, an eight-hundred-plus page novel set in 19th century New Zealand. And that’s not all: at 28, she’s the youngest Booker winner ever.

    There are 300,000 people in Iceland, and according to recent statistics, one in ten of them will eventually publish a book. This might account for the Icelandic phrase “ad ganga med bok I maganum”—that every Icelander “has a book in their stomach.”

    A textbook rental company in Sydney Australia has partnered with a company that specializes in unmanned aerial vehicles, a.k.a. drones, to develop what is likely the world’s first drone-driven textbook delivery service. The service uses the GPS coordinates of a customer’s smartphone to figure out where to deliver the book.

    Bryan Cranston and Tom Hanks will narrate a new series of audiobooks focused on “storytelling in American history.” The series is curated by Hanks and documentarian Ken Burns, and will include Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, among other books.

    Ronan Farrow

    Ronan Farrow

    Ronan Farrow—activist, Yale law school grad, and son of Mia Farrow (and possibly Frank Sinatra)—will soon add “author” to his list of credentials. This week, Farrow announced that he’ll be publishing his first book, an American military history, with Penguin. Pandora’s Box: How American Military Aid Creates America’s Enemies is a “personal exploration of a generation’s struggle with how to stand with its government without losing its principles.” It’s scheduled to come out in 2015.

    Glenn Greenwald, one of the two main journalists responsible for breaking the Edward Snowden story, has announced that he’s leaving the Guardian for “a brand-new, large-scale, broadly-focused media outlet,” which is as-of-yet unnamed. Elaborating on his new employer, Greenwald described it as “a general media outlet and news site—it’s going to have sports and entertainment and features. I’m working on the whole thing but the political journalism unit is my focus.” Though Greenwald will remain based in Brazil, the site’s offices will be in New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. He added that it’s “hired a fair number of people already.”

  • October 15, 2013

    HBO and Sony are among the studios fighting for the rights to adapt Glenn Greenwald’s forthcoming tell-all book about Edward Snowden—even though the project comes with so many thorny legal issues that one studio, 20th Century Fox, has already pulled out. Aside from the fact that there’s no ending yet, the story is likely to draw lots of government scrutiny, and it’s unclear whether Greenwald and collaborator Laura Poitras will be willing to sell their life rights.

    In an essay about the future of the book published to coincide with the Frankfurt Book Fair, futurist and sci-fi author Charles Stoss predicts that we can all look forward to digital books loaded with ads: “it is only a matter of time before advertising creeps into books, and then books become a vehicle for advertising. And by advertising, I mean spam. …”

    The rest of the world might have been celebrating Alice Munro’s Nobel win last week, but Bret Easton Ellis wasn’t impressed. In a characteristically snarky tweet, Ellis called Munro an “overrated writer” and the Nobel “a joke.” A day and lots of internet blowback later, Ellis had a change of heart, tweeting: “The sentimental hatred for me has made me want to re-read Munro, who I never really got, because now I feel like I’ve beaten-up Santa Claus.” When reached for comment, Munro’s response was, “Who?”

    Why is Penguin Classics—an imprint whose authors tend to be long-dead—putting out a memoir by a still-living pop star? Apparently because Morrissey wanted it that way. When asked in 2011 who he’d want to publish his memoir, Morrissey said, “I’d like it to go to Penguin… but only if they published it as a Classic.”

    Here is the trailer for James Franco’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 1973 novel Child of God, which is about a “mass murdering necrophiliac.” The movie screened at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall.

    “Kerouac came to Mexico a half-dozen times in the ’50s and ’60s to experience greater freedom with drugs, drinking, writing, and sex, in roughly that order”: The New York Times’s Mexico correspondent Damien Cave retraces one of Kerouac’s infamous trips from Mazatlán to Mexico City.

  • October 14, 2013

    Hipsters have turned on Dave Eggers, reports the Globe and Mail. Eggers became a cultural icon after the release of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and the creation of McSweeneys, but his latest novel—The Circle, a “dystopian science-fiction story” about a Google-like “evil Internet empire that controls all social media”—has left many of his fans feeling as if they have been “targeted by its satire.”

    Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are making the leap from the BBC to a PBS costume drama. The books, which chronicle “meteoric rise of [Thomas] Cromwell in the Tudor court, from his lowly start as the son of a blacksmith,” will be broadcast in 2015 and will star British actor Mark Rylance.

    Joshua Cohen talks about (and reads from) his novel-in-progress, Bewildernus.

    How’s this for counter-counter-intuitive: At Flavorwire, Michelle Dean makes a case for Malcolm Gladwell’s “oversimplifying” journalism, and argues against the idea that simplifying ideas is always necessarily a bad thing.

    Alice Munro decided to become a writer at fourteen, published her first story at nineteen, and was first edited by Chip McGrath at the New Yorker: Melville House collects a handful of charming facts you probably didn’t know about the recently minted Nobel Prize winner.

    The Taliban is apparently very happy that women’s-rights activist Malala Yousafzai—a sixteen-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head for attempting to get an education—did not win the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Yousafzai had been the favorite for the award since the publication of her book, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. According to NBC and the AFP, Taliban members described the loss (the prize went to The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) as “very good news” and praised the Nobel committee for “not selecting this immature girl for this famous award.”

  • 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.

  • October 9, 2013

    Accuracy, tone, and directness: At the New York Times Book Review, Daniel Mendelsohn and Dana Stevens discuss the qualities they look for in a good translation.

    Superagent Andrew Wylie talks with the New Republic about his e-publishing initiative, the rise of Amazon (“I am not one of those who thinks that Amazon’s publishing business is an effort marked by sincerity”), and why the London Book Fair is “like being at a primary school in Lagos.”

    Andrew Wylie

    Andrew Wylie

    How is William Boyd’s new James Bond different from the hard-nosed 007 of yore? For one thing, says Boyd, he’s much more in touch with his emotions: “Bond often sheds tears. He cries quite easily; he weeps; if he sees something revolting, like a mangled body, he’ll vomit spontaneously. So the Bond of the novels is a totally different being from the Bond of the films, the famous ‘blunt instrument,’ as he was described.”

    “For Phyllis, who made me put the dragons in”: Here are thirty book dedications that rival the actual books.

    In an interview with Fast Company, Scribd founder Trip Adler speculates that the future of e-reading isn’t on tablets, but on hands-free devices like Google Glass. “Holding a book you’re reading is kind of old school,” he said. “You should be able to just read on your back looking at the ceiling, with the reading experience probably projected in front of [your eyes].”

    Why is Edgar Allen Poe so often identified as a Baltimorean when his real roots were in Boston? A new book suggests that it might have something to do with his “deep class anxieties, self-destructive personality,” and his uneasy relationship with a “Boston Brahmin crowd whose approval he both craved and disdained.”