Yearly Archives: 2008

Holiday Books 2008

So this is what was either gifted to me or that I subsequently purchased in conjunction with the holidays this year:

To Siberia by Per Petterson
In the Woods by Tana French
Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth
True to Life by Lawrence Weschler
Alphabet Juice by Roy Blount, Jr.
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
Selected Verse by Federico Garcia Lorca
Fin-de-Siecle Vienna by Carl E. Schorske
Music Theory by George Thaddeus Jones
The Joy of Music by Leonard Bernstein
What to Listen for in Music by Aaron Copland

For more on what readers of this blog received during the holidays, see this thread.

And to see what readers of this blog bought during 2008, go here.

TNR on A Mercy

The New Republic offers a lengthy consideration of Toni Morrison’s newest novel:

In A Mercy, more than in any of Morrison’s previous books,
slavery is as much a metaphor for the human condition as it is a
historical fact. The novel is an extended consideration of the many
ways in which people deliberately or unconsciously assert ownership
over each other: spouses, lovers, mothers and children. The language in
which Jacob considers his requirements for a wife — "an unchurched
woman of childbearing age, obedient but not groveling, literate but not
proud, independent but nurturing" — is a slightly more tender version
of the language of slave advertisements, as Morrison represents them
here: "Girl or woman that is handy in the kitchen, sensible, speaks
good English, complexion between yellow and black," or "Hardy female,
Christianized and capable in all matters domestic available for
exchange of goods or specie." (The latter was an advertisement for
Lina.) Later we learn that Rebekka’s mother thought of her marriage to
Jacob as a "sale," since Jacob had emphasized "reimbursement" for the
requirements for his future bride’s journey, including clothing and
expenses. And at the planter’s house Jacob, faced with the man’s
insipid, preening wife, finds that "his own Rebekka seemed ever more
valuable to him."

Jeff Barry on the Future of Book Design

Richard Nash takes some lengthy quotes from Jeff Barry on the future of book design, with regard to the growth of ebooks. His fifth point is the one that’s most pertinent for me:

5) Print book designers will still flourish as some publishers will
realize that a niche audience is willing to pay a premium for a
wonderfully designed book, heralding a surprising renaissance in book
design. Also, print book designers can design PDF-based e-books with no
problem since PDF is usually a byproduct in the print book design

Jeff Barry, in case you’re asking, is 1/2 half of the genius duo behind The Quarterly Conversation’s roughly 6-month-old redesign.

eBook Market Expanding

The New York Times reports that Amazon’s Kindle is currently out of stock, letting some of the other players in the field move in.

The $359 Kindle, which is slim, white and about the size of a trade paperback, was introduced a year ago. Although Amazon will not disclose sales figures, the Kindle has at least lived up to its name by creating broad interest in electronic books. Now it is out of stock and unavailable until February. Analysts credit Oprah Winfrey, who praised the Kindle on her show in October, and blame Amazon for poor holiday planning.

The shortage is providing an opening for Sony, which embarked on an intense publicity campaign for its Reader device during the gift-buying season. The stepped-up competition may represent a coming of age for the entire idea of reading longer texts on a portable digital device.

The article also offers a little more sales data beyond the oft-quoted stat that ebooks account for 1 percent of book sales in the U.S.

Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, a book market research company, said he believed Amazon had sold as many as 260,000 units through the beginning of October, before Ms. Winfrey’s endorsement. Others say the number could be as high as a million.

Many Kindle buyers appear to be outside the usual gadget-hound demographic. Almost as many women as men are buying it, Mr. Hildick-Smith said, and the device is most popular among 55- to 64-year-olds. . . .

Amazon’s Kindle version of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wroblewski, a best seller recommended by Ms. Winfrey’s book club, now represents 20 percent of total Amazon sales of the book, according to Brian Murray, chief executive of HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide.

The Kindle version of the book, which can be downloaded by the device itself through its wireless modem, costs $9.99 in the Amazon Kindle store. The Reader version costs $11.99 from Sony’s e-book library, accessible from an Internet-connected computer.

And there are plenty more ebook readers on the way:

Other competitors are on the way. Investors have put more than $200
million into Plastic Logic, a company in Mountain View, Calif. The
company says that next year it will begin testing a flexible
8.5-by-11-inch reading device that is thinner and lighter than existing
ones. Plastic Logic plans to begin selling it in 2010.

Along the
same lines, Polymer Vision, based in the Netherlands, demonstrated a
device the size of a BlackBerry that has a five-inch rolled-up screen
that can be unfurled for reading. There are also less ambitious but
cheaper readers on the market or expected soon, including the eSlick
Reader from Foxit Software, arriving next month at an introductory
price of $230.

Yet Another “False Memoir”

You’d think after Frey et al. publishers would have become a bit more skeptical of incredible stories that jus sounded too good to be true.

A man whose memoir about his experience during the Holocaust was to have been published in February has admitted that his story was embellished, and on Saturday evening his publisher canceled the release of the book.

A bound proof of “Angel at the Fence” circulated in advance of the publication date.
And once again a New York publisher and Oprah Winfrey were among those fooled by a too-good-to-be-true story.

The story these two concocted is really over the top. Hard to believe that its falsity couldn’t have been uncovered with just a little fact-checking.

This time, it was the tale of Herman Rosenblat, who said he first met
his wife while he was a child imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp
and she, disguised as a Christian farm girl, tossed apples over the
camp’s fence to him. He said they met again on a blind date 12 years
after the end of war in Coney Island and married. The couple celebrated
their 50th anniversary this year.

Yet, according to The New York Times:

no one at Berkley [Books] questioned the central truth of Mr. Rosenblat’s story
until last week, said Andrea Hurst, his agent. Neither Leslie Gelbman,
president and publisher of Berkley, nor Natalee Rosenstein, Mr.
Rosenblat’s editor at Berkley, returned calls or e-mail messages
seeking comment. Craig Burke, director of publicity for Berkley,
declined to elaborate beyond the company’s brief statement announcing
the cancellation of the book. In an e-mail message, a spokesman for Ms.
Winfrey also declined to comment.

Onward to 2009

The Guardian previews some of the books to be published next year. Among others included is Pynchon, which everyone must certainly be aware of now, as well as AS Byatt, Geoffrey Dyer, and Kazuo Ishiguro (although his is not a novel but a short story collection).

Philip Roth is also publishing a new novel, which makes something like 4 in the last 8 years. That’s excessive.

If Amis’s new novel looks designed to be provocative, then the same is true of the forthcoming one by Philip Roth, The Humbling (also out in September). The extraordinary sexual attractiveness of Roth’s venerable male characters has long been a discussion point; in this new novel, Roth surpasses himself by having his ageing hero embark on a fantastically kinky relationship with – wait for it – a ravishing young lesbian.

The Rothophiles out there can tell us if this is Roth’s first major foray into the realm of lesbianism.

Sontag’s Diaries

Catching upon some of the coverage surrounding the publication of Susan Sontag’s first diary volume. Craig Seligman’s review in Bookforum reads like a rushed blog post:

Anyway, she wasn’t a writer whose life was informed by a few large
ideas (except, perhaps, for seriousness, which isn’t an idea but an
attitude). She was as promiscuous intellectually as she was with her
body; or, more accurately (in both cases), she was serially monogamous.
Though she had her cynosures, what always excited her was the new
theory or writer or director, which she would wrestle into an essay and
then move on. She wasn’t especially loyal to ideas, and late in life
she took pleasure in repudiating some of her earlier ones. This serial
intensity was what made her a great essayist, though discarded lovers
and friends may have had a few other things to say about it.

As you would expect, Sontag was a dead-serious teenager. The volume
opens with an eight-item list headed i believe (“no personal god or
life after death . . . government control of public utilities”),
compiled in 1947, when she was fourteen. Amid the jottings about Gide
and Vivaldi, a note recorded shortly before her sixteenth birthday
jumps out: “I feel that I have lesbian tendencies (how reluctantly I
write this)—.”

Good to know that seriousness is an attitude and not an idea.

Deborah Eisenberg in The New York Review is much more satisfying (even if she did steal her title from us):

But even from the earliest, less intimate entries, we feel that we’ve
broken the lock on the little book. The young author’s assiduous
excavations into, and evaluations of, the characteristics, capacities,
and potentialities that she finds to be hers put us in almost
claustrophobically close proximity to her. It is as though we were
watching from behind a screen while someone whose life is clearly to be
determined by her appearance tries on clothing in front of a mirror.

Here is the fifth entry, 9/1/48, when she was fifteen years old, in its entirety:

What does the expression "in his cups" mean?

Stone-slung mountain.

Read the [Stephen] Spender translation of [Rilke’s] The Duino Elegies as soon as possible.

Immersing myself in Gide again—what clarity and precision!
Truly it is the man himself who is incomparable—all his fiction seems
insignificant, while [Mann’s] The Magic Mountain is a book for all of one’s life.

I know that! The Magic Mountain is the finest novel
I’ve ever read. The sweetness of renewed and undiminishing acquaintance
with this work, the peaceful and meditative pleasure I feel are
unparalleled. Yet for sheer emotional impact, for a sense of physical
pleasure, an awareness of quick breath and quickly wasted
lives—hurrying, hurrying—for the knowledge of life—no, not that—for a
knowledge of aliveness—I would choose [Romain Rolland’s] Jean-Christophe —But it should only be read once. . . .

Darryl Pinckney’s piece in The New Yorker is somewhere in between. Interesting to note that both he and Eisenberg pick up on this quote:

It was like a physical blow, the absoluteness of his prose, pure actuality nothing forced or obscure. How I admire him above all other writers! Beside him, Joyce is so stupid, Gide so—yes—sweet, Mann so hollow + bombastic. Only Proust is as interesting—almost. But Kafka has that magic of actuality in even the most dislocated phrase that no other modern has, a kind of shiver + grinding blue ache in your teeth.

New Arabian Nights Translation Review

The Guardian considers the new translation of The 1,001 Arabian Nights.

The review includes an interesting bit about the provenance of the stories:

When the stories passed from the storyteller to the scribe, nobody
knows. The oldest surviving manuscript containing some of the stories
and the Shahrzad motif, which is now in the Bibliothèque nationale de
France, goes back only to the 15th century.

It was this
manuscript that the French antiquarian Antoine Galland discovered and
translated into French as Les Mille et une nuits between 1704 and 1717,
thus launching the Nights’ brilliant second career in Europe and the
Americas. To satisfy the public craze for Arabian tales, he added the
so-called "orphan" stories such as "Aladdin" and "Ali Baba" that he
said he had from a Syrian gentleman. In the next century, which was
interested in establishing canonical texts in eastern languages in the
manner of the Latin and Greek classics, versions of the Nights were
printed at Calcutta in 1814-18 ("Calcutta I"), in Cairo in 1835
("Bulaq") and in Calcutta again in 1839-42 ("Calcutta II").

Secret Santas

Theoretically, we generated between $2,100 and $3,500 for small and indie presses this year. Awesome.

And, a pretty bad-ass collection of suggested reads.

Holiday Books

What did books you receive during the holidays, and what books are you planning to purchase with your holiday cash?


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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