Category Archives: links



* Google’s getting into the online encyclopedia biz

* The Hartford Courant is the most recent newspaper to deem book coverage unimportant

* Roberto Bolano is in The New Yorker. Also see Conversational Reading’s coverage of Bolano, and and all of our reviews and essays about him at The Quarterly Conversation.


* The Complete Review on Reading the OED (yes, that’s what you think it is):

A book about someone spending a year reading the over twenty-thousand pages of a dictionary does not sound particularly promising — and the author’s statement that: "I think of Reading the OED as the thinking person’s Cliff Notes to the greatest dictionary in the world" isn’t exactly reassuring. On the other hand, what he proposes to do is fairly extraordinary: surely even fewer people read the Oxford English Dictionary cover(s) to cover(s) (there are twenty volumes in the edition he takes on) than climb Everest. Indeed, it is an audacious feat: yes, spread over a whole year, it averages to just less than sixty pages a day — but sixty pages of dictionary-entries, day in and day out ? Who could manage that ? (On the other hand: for a fat book contract, who wouldn’t give it a shot ?)


* The TLS on Fredric Jameson

* The LRB on literary critic Raymond Williams

* And the LRB on Bernhard Schlink’s new novel

The Rest

* The best documentaries of all time

* Max makes some good points about how different feed readers affect your consumption of online material

* Quiz yourself on how much you know about our nation’s wellbeing, or rather, lack thereof:

6) The United States has five percent of the world’s people. What percentage of the world’s prisoners does it have?
5% 11% 24% 41%

* More from the study that inspired the quiz


This ironic image found at No Caption Needed, which in this case lives up to its name


* For the sci-fi inclined, get in on Tor’s free ebook orgy while it still exists

* Does the Internet makes the new generation worse writers? A recent study finds changes in the kind of mistakes students make, but doesn’t attribute the changes to the digital environment:

One thing that Lunsford and Lunsford conclude is that when student writing from the mid-80s is compared to student writing today, “new error patterns” emerge. Of course, the big change in the composition classroom and in the writing lives of kids since then is the introduction of digital tools, and one might be disposed to attribute the changes to it. Not here, though. L & L mention the “hard-core worriers who see a precipitous decline in student writing ability and who often relate that decline to the creeping of IM and other digital lingo. . . . Our findings do not support such fears.”

* The Economist has an interesting write-up about The Raven King: Matthias Corvinus and the Fate of His Lost Library, a new book about the search for a monarch’s incredible personal library:

Matthias assembled one of Europe’s finest libraries, second in size
only to the Vatican’s. Given that almost all of the books were copied
by hand and richly illuminated, and that most of them came from
Florence and had then to be transported to Hungary, this was an
amazing, and amazingly expensive, achievement. After all, when Matthias
settled on Beatrice, a Neapolitan, to be his bride, it took her three
months to get to him along roads infested with highwaymen and Turkish

* The Guardian has more on those crazy Germen attempts to print the Wikipedia

* Chad discusses the translation issue of Canada Notes & Queries

* They’ve done something to the Guardian Review and I’m not sure I like it. Though they have dedicated a blog to classical music, which is hard not to like.

* Creative Nonfiction is having a sale of books and other sundry, and if you don’t snag the $15.00 CNF mug for $10.00 you’re just crazy not to.

* I can’t imagine why you’d want to be in on something that combines Tom Friedman’s voice with Tom Friedman’s prose, but if this sounds to your satisfaction, then you may sign up for a free audiobook in installments of The World Is Flat


* James Wood has good things to say about Aleksandar Hemon‘s latest, The Lazarus Project:

One of the most appealing aspects of Hemon’s fiction is that he is at once grounded in pungent realities and drawn toward playful fictionalizing. On the one hand, he finishes “The Accordion” with information about his family’s diaspora and the news that he wrote it on the subway after a hard day’s lowly work, and, on the other, he offers an anecdote about an accordion-playing ancestor that might be entirely fictitious and is grandly unverifiable. He likes to use his family name in his fiction, and to refer recurrently to certain relatives and family histories, but the autobiographical veracity of that fiction seems architectural rather than foundational. More than any other American novelist I can think of, he has made a kind of running autobiographical fiction of his actual circumstances—the childhood in Sarajevo, the exile in America, the early hardships in Chicago. He is a fabulist but not really a postmodernist; or, rather, he is a postmodernist who has been mugged by history. When he “lays bare the device” (an old Russian Formalist phrase for the technique of playful fictive self-consciousness), he opens a wound. During “the Hemoniad,” the narrator’s mother remarks, “The trouble with the Hemons . . . is that they always get much too excited about things they imagine to be real.” The formulation is canny: a good proportion of reality consists of what we freely imagine; and then, less happily perhaps, we discover that that reality has imagined us—that we are the vassals of our imaginings, not their emperors or archdukes.

* And speaking of Wood, TNR reviews its old critic’s new book, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, likes it:

Wood’s conversational style is a modern equivalent of Forster’s, but for all its wit and ease of manner, this is a much more substantial study. To be fair, one must add that Wood has access to serious studies of fiction and its workings that have become available since Forster’s day — mostly in the last half-century, which witnessed the birth of "narratology." Some "narratological" studies are pretentious and dull, but some are not. Wood announces that his favorite twentieth-century critics of the novel are Viktor Shklovsky and Roland Barthes, but he cites them largely in order to differ from them, gently deploring the difficulties they present to the "common reader." In a longer book (which this one ought to have been) we would hope to learn why these critics won his favor in the first place. In this one he does usefully borrow some of Barthes’s ideas, while contesting his opinion that "realism" has nothing to do with reality, being nothing but a system of conventional codes. He comments, but not as extensively as he usefully could, on S/Z, Barthes’s remarkable study of how a novella by Balzac works, but he says only a few words on Shklovsky’s essays — for instance, the study called "How Don Quixote Is Made, " a title perhaps echoed in Wood’s own.

* Dan Green on The Jew of Home Depot and Other Stories, "Max Apple’s first book of fiction in over twenty years":

To some extent, we have been deprived of the opportunity to witness
Apple’s further development of this hybrid mode of fiction. Since Zip, he has published only two other works of fiction, the 1984 collection Free Agents and a second novel, The Propheteers. Free Agents was actually an even stronger set of stories than The Oranging of America (with its famous title story about motel magnate Howard Johnson), more adventurous, less tied to conventional narrative. (Oranging
was innovative in terms of subject matter, but not so much in the
narrative forms employed.) It includes several stories that
provocatively blur the lines between fiction and autobiography,
employing "Max Apple" as their protagonists, while some of the other
stories, such as "An Offering" and "Post-Modernism," are humorously
unconventional in form (the former is an initial stock offering for
"Max Apple, Inc.," which markets Max Apple’s "private fantasies"
through "stories, novels, and essays fit for mass consumption"), what
might be considered kinder, gentler versions of postmodernism–which
the latter story describes as the effort to compensate for the fact
that writers "are stuck with beginnings, middles, and ends, and
constantly praying that the muse will send us a well-rounded, lifelike
character." The Propheteers, on the other hand, is in my view a weak novel expanding on the story "Walt and Will" from Free Agents and to me inferior to the story and its more typically Applesque concision and concentrated humor.


* Wyatt Mason challenges the "conventional wisdom" that the translation is always worse (much, much worse) than the original. I’m not sure I’d agree that this viewpoint is as pervasive as Mason implies, but his discussion is nonetheless worth reading.

* Chad points me to an essay by Margaret Jull Costa on the challenges to translating emotion and an online exercise you can use to see some of the challenges of translation

The Rest

* Evidence seems to indicate that free ebooks help sales

* I’m scared these are going to cause epileptic convulsions, but they are interesting

* Salman Rushdie is proud to be a minute-man

* Monsters of achievement


The University of Chicago publishes a new book of rarely seen Dorothea Lane photos. Press release, excerpt.


* Quarterly Conversation contributor Lee Rourke on the decline of the British avant-garde

* Paul Verhaughen, whom you’ll all remember as the author of the Pynchonesque work-in-translation Omega Minor, has a blog. I find it amazing that a guy capable of writing this on his blog didn’t get better publicity in the States:

I shoot an email back
asking if I can have the money (4,950 euros, or about $7,500) donated
to Human Rights Watch. Usual pattern: Let me ask, says the lady. It
takes a few months, including a vote, apparently, in some local
parliament, for this to clear. But it does. I’m happy. In the meantime,
I am waiting for the press release – again, I live abroad, so I don’t
get my face on TV, I have no weekly column in De Standaard, I do not do fashion photo shoots for Dag Allemaal or semi-nude lay-outs for Flair,
I am, in other words, not really part of the daily fabric of life of
most Flemings — let’s just say I imagine I could use the publicity.
Nothing happens, so I reckon there must be a reason for this. Then, in
November 2007, and did I mention we are talking the 2006 Prijs voor Letterkunde van de Vlaamse Provincies,
not the 2007 one?, some dude from the province of Oost-Vlaanderen where
I am allegedly born, contacts me about having an actual ceremony. That
must be the reason! It’s a secret! There’s an envelope to be opened
while a drumroll rolls and a fat opera singer belts from the top of her
mighty lungs! Sweet, I say, and can I assume you do pay for an airplane
ticket? Merry laughter bounces off the return email. No, no, no travel
money, what am I thinking?, but, know what?, they’ll hand “it” to me
‘next time I’m back home’. I try to quietly explain that I go back only
rarely, and that shelling out $1,500 dollars for a ticket for me and
sultry S. just to pick up a mysterious “it” isn’t something I can
easily afford, but then Dude says don’t worry just keep me posted.
Which I do. Then it turns out that the weekend when I did go back –
because I was in London anyway – didn’t work and was too short notice
and so sayonara and catch you perhaps next time, compadre? Which, I
quietly explain to aforementioned Dude, is not likely to be anytime
this year? This pisses Dude off, alas; he never bothers to answer that

* The LAT is laying off 150 employees

* The Economist on the winner of the so-called African Booker. Sounds fun:

In Ms Rose-Innes’s prize-winning “Poison”, it is not blood that fills
the atmosphere but a toxic black grit—fallout from an explosion at a
chemical factory that has emptied Cape Town of its inhabitants.
Reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic work of an earlier generation, Nevil
Shute’s “On the Beach” (1957), “Poison” explores a city where there is
no power and no petrol; only birds falling dead “like lumps of some
tarry black precipitate” from a sky thick with “bloody light”.

* The Observer Translation Project. Looks like a promising source for reading works-in-translation on the Web.

* Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle is finally getting published in English

* Don’t buy your Kindle just yet. Word is, the next generation will be available this fall. (And now I realize yet another advantage to owing real books: no upgrading.)


* The August Harper’s has William H. Gass on Henry James. You wanna read, you gotta pay, although I’d recommend against doing so unless you’re interested in hearing Gass comment on the possibility of James being homosexual and the number of British clubs he was a member of. Why Gass wastes his and our time with this nonsense, I have no clue.

* Messud on Louise Erdrich:

Erdrich’s novels are marked not only by their lucid, lyrical prose (she
is a fine stylist, and her sentences are a joy to read), but also by
the digressive complexity of their unfolding, by their refusal to
relinquish the mystery, the oddity, and the idiosyncratic significance
of even apparently minor objects and happenings. Her characters inhabit
a world in which, through storytelling, myth is made not only of grand
tragedy—a family murder and an unjustified lynching, for example, in The Plague of Doves—but
also of an eleven-year-old’s infatuation, or of a courting couple’s
fishing date. No strand is too slight, or proves too colorless, to
leave out of the grand tapestry.

* Moody on Mason & Dixon:

If the action sounds picaresque, that’s because it is. The 450 middle pages of
Mason & Dixon most resemble the great picaresque novels of Fielding
or the metaphysical comedy of Voltaire’s Candide. What makes M&D
modern (besides uncanny similarities between the Enlightenment and the
millennium, besides sly references to contemporary culture — to dope
smoking, to popular music: "’Is it not the very Rhythm of the Engines,
… the Rock of the Oceans, the Roll of the drums in the Night’") is
the tremendous intellection spun into its episodic action: Charles Mason’s
ambition (which is matched only by Dixon’s refusal to be ambitious at all,
except in womanizing, drinking, and fishing) is to understand the invisible
forces behind the physical laws that make up his work during the
Enlightenment. Like
Vineland, in which scarcely a character escapes without being described
as a ghost, and like GR, with its cast of revenants, Mason &
dwells frequently on what is hidden.


The Rest

* The Poetry Postcard Fest. You too can be a part:

Get yourself at least 31 postcards. These can be found at book stores,
thrift shops, online, drug stores, antique shops, museums, gift shops.
(You’ll be amazed at how quickly you become a postcard whore.)

or about July 27th, write an original poem right on a postcard and mail
it to the person on the list below your name. (If you are at the very
bottom, send a card to the name at the top.) For crying out loud WRITE

Starting on August 1st, ideally in response to a card
YOU receive, keep writing a poem a day on a postcard and mailing it to
successive folks on the list until you’ve sent out 31 postcards. . . .

* The Expresso Book Machine: backlist savior or vanity press on the cheap (and right in in your hometown bookstore)?

But the vision of a bookstore as a sort of Kinko’s, or a
bricks-and-mortar version of iUniverse sends shivers down my spine. I
think of bookstores as one of the gatekeepers of culture, not as a
one-stop shop where you can buy Ulysses and print that collection of poems you’ve been putting together.

* Mind maps

* Narrative medicine

* Blogs are being used to teach literature in the classroom

* How is this possible? "While Turks spend an average of five hours a day watching television, they devote only six hours in an entire year to reading."


Yes, you know Falling Man. But what about Falling Girl?


* In writing about the battle to keep Fernando Pessoa’s correspondence in Portugal, the NYT does a pretty good job of discussing the writer and his major works

* Borders becomes the latest online bookseller to offer downloadable audio books. Unfortunately, they force you to download through a clunky "media console" that’s Windows-only. And we wonder why Borders is going out of business.

* Max has some great news for Alvaro Mutis fans. If you’re not familiar with him, see The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, something along the links of Don Quixote meets Proust. In more Mutis fun, Max also has a review of his collection The Mansion.

* I think the U.S> should invest more in foreign fiction. Mukoma Wa Ngugi argues that Africa should invest more in its own fiction.

* The Complete Review has released its regular self-analysis: How International Are We? As always, good reading.

* They dig up an old Garcia Marquez screenplay, and someone decides to film it


* The WSJ has an appreciation of Anthony Powell’s immense work A Dance to the Music of Time:

A million words and some 400 characters: That’s what
you face when you decide to read Anthony Powell’s "A Dance to the Music
of Time." You must be a patient reader with a high tolerance for
punctuation, willing to scan some of the author’s labyrinthine
sentences two or even three times. By the time you’re finished, you may
have read a million and a half words.

I have just finished the first two books in the 12-volume cycle, and I’m definitely going to read the rest. . . .

* The TLS reviews When Languages Die:

By the year 2100, many linguists estimate, half of the world’s
6,912 distinct languages will be extinct. At present, 548 of them
retain fewer than ninety-nine speakers. We can expect to lose a
language every ten days; and behind each of these disappearances lies a
story of cultural loss, sadness and isolation. K. David Harrison embeds
his accounts of linguistic decay within the experiences of individuals
who must endure it. When Languages Die
is not, however, a study of the pressures which extinguish languages:
we can look elsewhere for an analysis of the effects of globalization,
urbanization and the conformist pressures exerted by the speakers of
majority languages. Harrison focuses instead on what happens as a
result of language death to the cultural and ecological understanding
of the affected peoples, and what these losses signify for humanity as
a whole.

Harrison considers the ecological knowledge that is encoded in small,
indigenous languages — the kind of knowledge, acquired over centuries,
which is worth an estimated $85 billion to those pharmaceutical
companies that have mined it. . . .

* A review of The Magical Chorus: A History of Russian Culture from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn:

Still, as a sweeping eulogy to one of the gilded eras of Western
culture — Russia from the late 19th- to the mid-20th century — The Magical Chorus
rewards readers with a gold mine of insider anecdotes and a story of
sorts. Despite the subtitle, that story really begins not with the
death of Tolstoy but with the Bolshevik seduction of early 20th-century
modernist icons: Mayakovsky, Blok and Gorky in literature, Malevich and
Rodchenko in art. These radical outsiders responded to the decorous
realism of the czarist era with a "burn baby burn" mentality, a
militant aesthetic of renewal that, at least early on, conveniently
served the Bolshevik agenda. "Blow up, destroy, and wipe the old
artistic forms from the face of the earth," thundered the art critic
Nikolai Punin. "How could the new artist, the proletarian artist, the
new man not dream of this?"

* The Complete Review reviews Murakami’s new book. In my opinion, their summary verdict could, unfortunately, easily transfer to much of his recent work:

unremarkable, but insightful in its own way

I’m sorry to say, but Murakami just doesn’t seem inspired these days. As he himself said:

I’d say my readers are in a certain way addicted to my style of
writing. They are loyal readers. That’s why I know that they will put
up with reading my next novel, even if it’s just so-so. Although they
probably wouldn’t buy my book if it’s really bad, I at least have
confidence in myself that what I write won’t be that bad.


* The Guardian on updating the dictionary

* There’s a lot to argue with in this latest death of the critic essay. Take, for instance, this:

The old media have, predictably, been outraged. After all, their jobs are on the line. ‘People who make these decisions,’ says Sean Means of the host of sackings, ‘get it into their heads that people who want to read about new movies have lots of places to do so, from fan sites, through blogs to critical aggregators, but they are being short-sighted. The reason people buy newspapers is to hear that particular voice.’ So is he saying that the opinions expressed for free on blogs are not of value? Not necessarily, he says. ‘The truth is, though, that there are very few amateurs who are better than professionals. If you really are good at it you figure out some way to get paid for it.

Of course . . . the best way to demonstrate your love of and aptitude for a discipline is to get paid for it. Like Kafka, Wallace Stevens, Camus, Borges, Perec, Proust, B.S. Johnson . . .

The Rest

* The Australians have some strange book laws

* Yes, The Cover was a dumb idea. Yes, it would have been a whole lot less offensive and plainly foolish if it had contained the least bit of intelligent satire.

* Wow, I didn’t think I’d find something this week that could rival The Cover for sheer dumbness, but this is definitely it. When Maureen Down is comparing your book to Primary Colors as a defense of it, you know you’ve gone off course.

* Now the government can use your laser printer to spy on you. Excellent!


I can’t tell if this is one of the most useless books ever created or one of the funniest jokes I’ve seen in a while.


* One day the gods will reveal what we, the American reading public, have done to make them to inflict geniuses like this on our book sections

* What are the essential essays of textual criticism after 1985?

* Chad Post discusses the somewhat prohibitively expensive pricing of books in Argentina. Compared to other parts of Latin America, I don’t think the Argentine book buyer is that badly off, although I do agree that the costs probably do stifle some readers. For more on this topic, see my column about overly expensive books.

* Classical music criticism becomes the latest form of cultural critique to be designated unnecessary by newspapers

* Illinois: American translation powerhouse. (You’re not going to take this lying down, New York City, are you?)

* Chad Post becomes the latest reader to fall under Senselessness’s sway. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Katherine Silver about her translation of this book, and I’m hoping I’ll find a venue interested in publishing some of the things she had to say about this incredible novel.

* Speaking of, for all you Senselessness fans out there, New Directions is planning to publish another of Moya’s books at some point


* A nice piece on the British writer Anna Kavan, who I haven’t read yet (though I hope not for long):

The received view is that Kavan’s later writing, her increasing tendency to represent the world as some threatening, scarcely comprehensible mechanism dedicated to the crushing of her characters’ hopes and longings, and the stylistic means adopted to these ends, had its source in traumatic events occurring around 1938-39: the collapse of her second marriage, mental breakdown, successive suicide attempts, discovery of Kafka. Her previous works, written under her first married name of Helen Ferguson, have been labelled – again by Rhys Davies – ‘home counties novels’. But it is far less straightforward than that.

Her first published book, A Charmed Circle (1929), opens with a chapter devoted to the external aspect of the vicarage in which the action will take place, describing how its rural isolation has, over the years, been encroached upon by ‘…mean streets that devoured the unresisting land. Fields were eaten away almost in a night. People went for their yearly holidays and returned four short weeks later to find the landscape strangely altered.’ This only lasts a page; but, by the time we have read it, we are already in the grip of a chilling objectivity whose fearfulness owes nothing to any invocation of the supernatural. Still more adventurous in style is her third book, Let Me Alone (1930); and this introduces us to a character called Anna Kavan.

* The Economist on Hammer & Tickle, a history of Communism told through its jokes.

But the aim of “Hammer & Tickle” is not just to be amusing and
poignant, but also to instruct. The author makes the (to him) rather
depressing discovery that most communist-era jokes were just recycled
versions of older ones. Take this example, which is told twice in the
book: a flock of sheep approaches the Finnish border in a panic,
pleading to be allowed entry. “Beria [Stalin’s secret police chief] has
ordered the arrest of all elephants,” they explain. “But you’re not
elephants,” reply the Finnish border guards in puzzlement. “Yes, but
try explaining that to Beria.” That sounds spot-on for the Soviet Union
in the 1930s. But it can be traced to a Persian poet in 12th-century
Arabia, where it involves a fox running away from a royal ordinance
that in theory applies only to donkeys.


* I linked to this on Tuesday, but I want to mention it again for the simple reason that Peter Nadas sounds like one author I need to read immediately:

His titanic novel A Book of Memories — which has been subsequently outweighed by his 1,500-page Parallel Stories,
finished in 1995 but not yet available in English — was written over a
period of more than ten years. Its dense and intricate plot unfolds at
mesmerizingly close range. Specific information tends to appear only
obliquely or incidentally; it takes some time for us to orient
ourselves and to understand that the narrator, whom we first encounter
in Berlin, is in love with a young man who has just disappeared,
presumably to the West, and that both of them are also emotionally
involved with a well-known actress. Sections of the book that deal with
this period of the narrator’s life alternate with sections about his
childhood in Stalinist Budapest. A second voice, that of a dissolute
aesthete and anarchist, who we come to realize is an invention of the
first narrator’s, braids itself between these settings, and toward the
end of the book, a third narrator — an important childhood friend of
the first — takes over for a while. . . .

Scrutiny is fundamental to the milieu Nadas portrays, where every
intimacy creates new ambiguities and new ground for betrayal, and
there’s no work I know that examines so atomically the composition of
an instant of experience — the interstices of that instant; at times
it’s miniaturization writ almost too large to take in.

* The NYRB has published its "Summer Fiction Issue," which means that they’ve actually covered a reasonable amount of fiction. Most of the good stuff is free online. They’ve even serialized fiction from Per Petterson, but you’ve got to pay for it.

* Benjamin Kunkel on Netherland:

O’Neill, that is, is working in a recognisably British mode of
novel-writing marked by a combination of decorous prose, lyrical
flights, well-carpentered plots and occasional injections of noirish
material (we learn in the first pages of Chuck’s handcuffed body being
retrieved from Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal), and he wants to adapt this
mode – its exemplar is Ian McEwan – to the American soil of the book’s
themes or subject matter: multicultural brotherhood, immigrant
self-fashioning in the New World, post-9/11 New York. This compact
novel, in which an emotionally buttoned-down new arrival recounts the
downfall of another recent transplant who is, by contrast with him, an
extravagant dreamer, has won admiring comparisons to that most American
of novels, The Great Gatsby. Further associations between the
two books may be triggered by the fact that both narrators,
Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway and O’Neill’s Hans, work in finance, the
former in bonds, the latter in oil futures.


* Listen to the PEN World Voices discussion of Robert Walser. Also see our review of his novel, The Assistant.

The Rest

* In his day, Dickens was the victim of imposters who wrote knockoffs of some of his best works. Kind of makes you question the reading abilities of the 19th-century British middle class.

* Apple fetishists can see what the new MacBook Pro is going to look like, via leaked images


The Economist pays homage to an artist who pretty much made a career our of painting unadorned home interiors


* A treasure trove of previously unknown Kafka writings has been discovered

* A linguist explains why texting is good for writing and spelling

* Bertelsmann, which owns some trifling American press (the name escapes me), has given up trying to sell books in China

* Don’t you just love it when Michael Orthofer gets on his hobby horse? He’s chosen to vent his fury on an incredibly botched publication of Danilo Kiš, and I’m behind him 100 percent. How you call yourself a publisher if you can’t even list your books on Amazon? Heck, why not just dig a huge hole in the ground and bury them while you’re at it? Chad Post also has thoughts.

* Gotta love puritanical America. A high school teacher gets teens interested in reading, and they reward her with 18 months suspension, pending possible trial.

* The Koreans have set up an organization to evaluate the quality of translations made from Korean to English. So far, about 10 percent rate "high readability"


* The Complete Review reviews Mute Objects of Expression, a book I’ve been staring down and quietly muttering promises to for quite a while now


* Deborah Eisenberg on Fire and Knowledge by Peter Nadas, in the NYRB

* The Translator’s Paradox


* This video has nothing to do with books, but I think I can promise you that if you view it you will never look at walls the same way again. And who can pass up a promise like that?

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

The Rest

* This must mean something important, I just can’t tell what. A TV show has spawned a book club devoted to titles relating to the show. (Attentive readers will have already guessed the show.)

* Maybe screens won’t be the way we read in the future. The Earth is rapidly running out of metals essential to the construction of computer screens. Trees = replenishable; gallium, perhaps not.

* Alex Ross offers his top 20 books and CDs on 20th-century classical music. Doctor Faustus is #1.

* Another test offers evidence that the SAT I is a poor indicator of college performance. According to the study, high school grades and AP courses taken (but not AP test scores) do better.

* I think in this day and age, it’s a good time to retire the adjective explosive in conjunction with books; e.g. "I’m writing an explosive book," or "in Mr. Suskind’s new explosive book"

* Scott McLemee opines "both Time and Newsweek long ago gave up being anything except television minus the electricity" and who am I to disagree? And apropos of Malcolm Jones’s question "Who puts the theory of evolution and the Civil War in the same sentence?" (from the article that outraged Scott), I can only reply: Louis Menand, that’s who. Of course, Jones can be forgiven for forgetting The Metaphysical Club; it only won a Pulitzer, after all.


The NY Times profiles library-ladder makers Putnam Rolling Ladder Company


* Not exactly news, but could someone with greater influence than I possess help The Guardian understand that they’re not obliged to cover every single Harry Potter-related story that comes down the pike?

* The Millions discusses anticipated books left to publish in 2008. And if you want more hot forthcoming books action, you can check the catalogs I run down regularly on Fridays and my two BEA roundups

* FC2 is getting dropped from the University of Florida. Guess innovative fiction is too much for a university to support these days.

* There’s a new Words Without Borders up.

* I just new they were going to start doing this sooner or later. Now custom agents have the power to randomly search your electronic media.


* A number of reviews for The Book of Chameleons: Three Percent, The Complete Review,

* Ready Steady Blog uncovers a thorough, not-terribly-complimentary review of James Wood’s poorly titled How Fiction Works


* The LRB on Philip K. Dick


* A Harvard study claims to have refuted the thesis of the book The Long Tail. (The author responds.)

The Rest

* Newsweek recommends summer reads, and their list is actually a lot better than you would expect. There’s Nathan Englander, Chatwin, and Hitchens before he became tired.

* Shane at eNotes discusses his pleasure with finding books for $1.00 and less at the Salvation Army store. I can beat that . . . I’ve been finding the best stuff lately just sitting in boxes on the sidewalk.

* Imperial America somehow managed to offer us all video of Christopher Hitchens being waterborded as part of some kind of proof to the beefy critic that it is indeed torture. Glad he’s convinced. And if you click the link and read Scott McLemee’s thoughts on the footage, perhaps you’ll ask yourself, as I did, "how does he know how ‘any dominatrix’s client’ is treated?"

* Is email losing its importance?


How nonprofits will meet in the 21st century? From the flickr photostream Nonprofits in Second Life.


* More cutbacks in the Chicago Tribune and LAT book sections are likely

* NPR, by contrast, is upping its coverage

* Chad Post lets the cat out of the bag that NYRB will be publishing the 1600-page book on Borges by Morel-author and best friend Adolfo Bioy Casares (albeit, somewhat abridged)

* This just sounds odd: "The city of Frankfurt’s prestigious art museum, the Schirn, cancelled Friday its plans for a literary art exhibition because Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk failed to write a book on time." Actually sounded like a cool exhibit . . .

* Each Iranian reads one book every 1892 days

* But reading in Spain is booming

* The era of the disposable book. How about, instead of rushing out to publish junk like Jonah Goldberg’s latest feast of erudition, publishers try to figure out intelligent way to promote all the good things in their backlist. After all, we’re seeing more and more publishers dedicated to bringing back OOP titles . . .

Given those pressures, I understand why a conscientious publisher would choose the first option — to add titles fast and hope to catch some cultural wave. Think of Hannah Montana, Obama-mania, entrepreneurial self-promoters with a brand to build or political provocateurs such as Jonah Goldberg, whose pointless thought exercise "Liberal Fascism" is just the latest example of what the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once termed "boob bait for the bubbas." Authors such as Goldberg serve up red meat for their constituencies while cable broadcasters fill airtime with their extreme, quasi-entertaining notions — in this case, the "parallels" between Nazi policies and those of such Democratic leaders as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Books of this ilk have always existed. But in the past, they’ve been balanced by substantive books, crafted by monomaniacal authors who devoted years to the work. I can’t prove it empirically, but when I talk to literary agents and fellow publishers, they acknowledge an unarticulated truth about our business: Fewer authors are devoting more than two years to their projects.


* Wyatt Mason renders an appropriate note of thanks for the republication of Leonard Michaels’s short stories, delivers the news that FSG will publish his essays in 2009, and then offers up a Michaels essay for us all to enjoy.

* E.L. Doctorow on the knowledge deniers


* Nina L. Khrushcheva’s new book on Nabokov and what he means for contemporary Russia is not terribly well loved at the NY Times:

The result is a “dialogue” with Nabokov that becomes all too literal when Khrushcheva travels to Montreux, Switzerland, to converse with the novelist’s bronze statue in an unfortunate heart-to-heart blending quotations from the writer’s own work and lines composed for him by Khrushcheva. As protean as he may have been, the real Nabokov was never so humorless as this grim puppet.


* Book launch 2.0. "That thing that looks like ‘delicious,’ but with the dots in it . . . oh, it is ‘delicious.’" So true, so hilarious, so sad.


* By definition, anything that interests Lawrence Weschler interests me. This axiom works because I have not yet found anything that Weschler could not make interesting while discussing it. So, you can imagine how I reacted to this audio of Weschler and others discussing Erin Hogan’s book on the landscape of America’s West, Spiral Jetta.

The Rest

* I wish more small presses would offer subscription options. Open Letter is currently offering their first six titles for $65. Archipelago also offers subscriptions with various price/book options, though, sadly, I don’t see any info about it on their website.

* It’s not enough to send books these days

* When Scott McLemee considers getting a Kindle, we all must consider if our time is come

* Among other revelations in a new Casanova bio: he was bi, and he owed his success to the Kabbalah

* What helps a litmag survive?

* Apropos of my love for all things Middlemarch, I point you to this epigraph from the book discussed at Languagehat

* Pardon me if I find this Guardian blog post about how Murakami cleared the way for translations a bit naive

* Google’s translation without translators may enable science without scientists


From the piece "Composition for Robert Walser," published at Words Without Borders


* Cody’s Books is now really, truly, and, one must accept, irrevocably, dead

* A new documentary exploring the life and death of Cody’s Books and Kepler’s bookstore will air on PBS in November

* Marcelo reports on Bolano’s literary executor, who possibly lost his job for writing a negative review. Marcelo also reproduces this quote from him, with which I need not state my agreement:

The way things are … the critic tends to act exactly like a disc
jockey. The DJ’s success, just like the new critics’, depends on his
capacity for tuning in to the dance floor’s occupants, whose appetites,
tastes, and level of excitement or euphoria he must divine, stimulate
and encourage.

* Encounter Books decides to forego the honor of sending its books to the NYTBR for review

* There’s no link to a story online anywhere, so I reprint this news blurb in toto from Publisher’s Lunch. Sounds interesting:

Joint Venture to
Provide Online Slices of Academic Books

The University of Chicago Press’s Chicago Distribution Center has
signed with  technology provider Tizra to allow distributed
publishers to sell subscriptions to online books. The joint venture
will begin this summer in a pilot program with the University of
Chicago Press itself and others, and will use the services of their
Bibliovault digital repository.

* This story prompts the question, Was not having your newspaper edited in India really what was holding it back? I, for one, look forward to the day when U.S. book reviews are written solely by Indians.

* Americans must go teach the Chinese to speak English like we do, or else we’ll end up speaking it like they do

* The Guardian on Dave Eggers’s oral history project


* The Complete Review reviews a book written by the mayor of Rome and translated by the man who wrote Godel, Escher, Bach

* Richard Eder on the last of Camus’s notebooks

* Hitchens on Rushdie


* The science of itching, as discussed by the author of a new book on the subject


* From the website Camouflage Lenses, a poem put to film:

The Rest

* Levi Stahl of the University of Chicago press has been doing some mean Savage Detectives blogging of late

* Coetzee’s relationship with his censors wasn’t quite what you’d expect:

The reality of the author’s run-ins with the censors belies the popular
image. Not only were the censors complimentary of the books – for
example, one censor called In the Heart of the Country
‘outstandingly well-written’ – but they were themselves sophisticated
readers known to Coetzee. Among them was H. van der Merwe Scholz, a
professor at the University of Cape Town, where Coetzee also taught.
Another was Anna M. Louw, herself a novelist based in the city. These
censors were part of Coetzee’s intellectual and social world, drawn
from the small South African intelligentsia who, Coetzee suggested,
considered themselves to be ‘guardians of the Republic of Letters… book
reviewers to the power of n’ protecting a space for literature from a
philistine state.

* The great New York novel?

* Classic? Not quite.


The Smithsonian now has a flickr photostream.


* Matt Cheney releases the TOC for Best American Fantasy 28

* Blackwells in the UK is testing out the so-called book ATM in one of its stores. At 40 pages per minute, you could POD a copy of Vollmann in under half an hour.

* The Wall Street Journal shows how Amazon shows its clout, turning a summer book into a bestseller:

Driving that unexpectedly heavy demand has been strong
reviews and promotional support from The Web retailer chose
the book as one of the best books of June and aggressively hyped it,
including by posting a long and enthusiastic blurb from best-selling
author Stephen King. The same blurb was printed inside "early reader"
copies sent to reviewers, bloggers and booksellers.

Amazon also kept "Edgar Sawtelle" on its home page for
two weeks at a 40% discount before the book hit stores, and posted an
essay written by the author at Amazon’s request.

* 100 best reads of the last 25 years

* The Literary Saloon points me to this profile of an author many consider "the most important Romanian writer of the last two decades"


* Steve Mitchelmore has a great review of Senselessness. In addition to teasing out more of the Bernhardian influence, he gives a delightfully balanced look at the book that, thought positive, doesn’t shrink from honest critique.

* Matthew Cheney offers an overwhelmingly positive review of Stoner by John Williams, a book I keep hearing very good things about

* In Rain Taxi, a review of a sort of librarian-superhero comic, Rex Libris:

We have few badass librarian stories. Joss Whedon gave us Rupert Giles, who can swing a sword as well as shelve a tome. Kelly Link introduced us to Fox, the gorgeous and similarly sword-wielding librarian in the story "Magic for Beginners." The husband of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time-Traveller’s Wife takes care of Special Collections as his dayjob. The orangutan librarian of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is not to be messed with. Infinite librarians inhabit Jorge Luis Borges’s very small story, "The Library of Babel."

This is a fine company of heroes, but, given what we owe librarians, it is still an insufficient tribute. Librarians were among the first to stand up to the Patriot Act. They safeguard the sum of our knowledge and keep it findable. They let us read books for free. They spend their days battling forces of darkness and ignorance, and now they have Rex Libris to demonstrate this to the world.

James Turner’s square-headed, noir-ish, immortal survivor of Alexandria’s famed library is a marvelous creation.


* In The Guardian Colm Toibin on The Golden Bowl

* TNR offers an essay/review of the new work of criticism from the increasingly omnipresent Adam Thirwell


Author and Believer-editor Ed Park discusses his new book, Personal Days, as part of the Authors@Google series.

The Rest

* Boxing’s highbrow appeal

* Chad Post runs down contemporary Japanese lit

* Chas Newkey-Burden hates second-hand books because previous owners tear out chapters and leave their snot in them. I find this a little dramatic. As someone who regularly picks up books off the street (and also buys plenty second-hand), I don’t think it’s too hard to flip through to see if a book has been defaced, and have yet to find any bodily waste lying in wait for me.

* Tolstoy’s translator is too sensitive?

* Books for which burning is too gentle a response

* Someone thinks he’s figured out who Godot was. But this person also interprets The Crying of Lot 49 as about the JFK assassination. So . . .


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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