1. After a whole lot of passionate (and incorrect) guessing, Mario Vargas Llosa has won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature (the dapper fellow above just announced it on a live webcast from Stockholm). I must admit that, while I once enjoyed hearing from this Peruvian novelist at a New York reading with Umberto Eco and Salman Rushdie, I don't know much about his work as a whole. I'm looking forward to learning more. And, yeah, I do wish Ngugi wa Thiong'o had taken it. Maybe next year.
2. A Ted Hughes poem dealing directly with his wife Sylvia Plath's suicide has been revealed for the first time.
3. I like Julie Taymor and I really like William Shakespeare's The Tempest, so I'm pretty psyched about a new Julie Taymor film of The Tempest, starring Helen Mirren as a female Prospero, along with the likes of Russell Brand and Alan Cumming in various roles.
Congratulations to up-and-coming indie novelist Tao Lin for scoring a full-page review -- not necessarily a positive review, but a riveting one -- in yesterday's Sunday New York Times Book Review. Nice break!
I'm not workin' the NYTBR beat anymore, but I will pay attention at moments like these. I've been watching Tao's unusual career from the beginning (when I reviewed his first book and called him "faux naif"), and I've appeared at a couple of literary readings with him. His performance style, like his prose, is highly deadpan. The nervous laughter in the audience comes during his awkward silences, just as it does in his novels.
1. We told you about artist Malcolm McNeill's Ah! Pook Is Here, a vast extended collaboration with William S. Burroughs, two years ago. Great news -- the work is going to be published by Fantagraphics.
2. Sean Michael Hogan was one of the five winners of a writing contest we held on this site in 2003. He's an excellent writer, and also an opinionated sports nut, and he's combined both inclinations into an e-book, It's Not Just A Ballgame Anymore. Here, also, is a short story by Sean about the frustrations of being a writer.
2. I've always been interested in the real-life stories behind great works of fiction, so this Jezebel gallery is up my alley. Most of these are familiar, but I didn't know that Humbert Humbert's road trip with Lolita Haze was based on a real news story.
I see posters around New York City advertising "LEARN HOW TO GET PUBLISHED". This seems to me a rather indirect goal; a more useful advertisement would say "LEARN HOW TO GET READ".
Of course, a writer yearns to be published and widely read, but only an innocent writer believes that publishing a book guarantees a real readership, or a long-term career. A look at Bookscan or any other source for book sales statistics shows that most literary novels by new authors sell less than 1000 copies. You can spend years working to get that first book out, but if it fails to make a splash it may be quickly forgotten, along with your glorious future in the literary field.
2. I don't always finish his books, but I always get a kick out of Chuck Palahniuk. His signature novel Fight Club established him as a guy's guy kind of writer, and he still carries an aura of sweat and blood and testosterone (not to mention soap). Give the guy credit for throwing curveballs at his readers, because several of his follow-up works (like Diary and the new Tell-All) seem to lavish in a feminine sensibility. Tell-All is a send-up of vintage Hollywood, featuring a pampered aging movie actress and the allegedly dubious literary legacy of Lillian Hellman. Honestly, the book baffles me, and I had to stop reading it because I felt I did not know enough about the era it is parodying to understand the references. And yet, even this slap in the face to Palahniuk's sweaty male following does not seem to hurt his sales (nor has the author's revelation that he is gay) I don't always finish Chuck Palahniuk's books, but I will always be fascinated by his mystique, and curious about what the hell weird book he's going to write next.
If it's summer, and if the New York Times Book Review is touting beach imagery and "Summer Reading" in its current issue, then why the hell am I indoors reviewing it, instead of out there having fun?
Because I'm a dummy, that's why. But here we go with today's Book Review, which turns out to be a rather good one.
Jonathan Franzen's upcoming Freedom is surely the most anticipated literary novel of the year, at least from the publishing industry's perspective, since he has shown a rare ability to write books that people buy and talk about. I don't quite feel the excitement myself -- I liked The Corrections enough to finish it, but was hardly blown away -- but I'll play along and follow Freedom's progress when it comes out (it will surely be on the cover of the Book Review) in September. Meanwhile, I like the unusual essay Franzen contributes to the Book Review today. It's unusual because the book, Christine Stead's The Man Who Loved Children, was published in 1940 and is not widely known today. It's not even being reissued in a "commemorative edition" (as far as I can tell), though it probably will now be reissued with Franzen's essay as the introduction, and I'll probably buy it. Franzen's long essay digs deep into the book, apparently a Corrections-esque parable about a weird family, and makes a strong impression.
Behold: a thing. Whatever else it is in this world, it is a thing. It may or may not have a name, it may or may not be identifiably unique, but it is an object, an instance of a class. When we talk about the future of the book (and, well, a lot of people are talking about the future of the book) I like to mention a word that I encountered a few years ago when I worked for a company in the litigation sector that made advanced search software: "immutability".
My job was to be, boringly enough, this company's expert in the PDF format, and I know a whole lot about PDF files. One thing I know is that PDFs are immutable, which is to say that they can't be changed. You can share or save a PDF file, but you can't edit or modify one. You could hack one, if you really wanted to, but doing so violates the basic principle of the PDF format: it is an unchangeable thing. This is why PDFs (and not, say, Microsoft Word documents) are the standard format for legal contracts.
Books, I believe, are immutable. Many entrepreneurs are doing (or planning to do) exciting things with the basic structure of the book -- Richard Nash of Cursor and Hugh McGuire of BookOven come to mind. A recent display of a possible future issue of Sports Illustrated rendered in the emerging HTML5 standard shows similar ingenuity with the familiar structure of magazines. But an issue of a magazine, just like a book, must be immutable -- it is a distinct thing, an object, an instance of a class. As we zoom through time and space with the next generation of browsers, will the boundaries of a text's identity itself become fluid?
Screw stuff white people like. This is stuff I like:
1. With Amazon Crossing, the well-funded online bookstore is taking an active role in publishing international authors across boundaries. Good move, Amazon. Speaking of international authors, a fifth Words Without Borders anthology, Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, is coming out. Way to be productive, WWB!
2. Something else we like: Ghostbusters invade the main branch of the New York Public Library to protest library budget cuts. What's really interesting about this latest effort by Improv Everywhere is that the apparently desperate New York Public Library actually allowed it to take place (though they don't seem to have warned the people in the library). Nice! We've gone way beyond "ssssssh!" by now.
Why, in our web-connected age, do we still exist in information silos defined by nationality and language?
This is, for me, probably the greatest disappointment of the Internet era. (Okay, the fact that I didn't get to keep my million dollars of dot-com stock was my biggest personal disappointment, but that's a different kind of disappointment). An incredible technological unity has been established all over the world -- from my office computer to Africa and Asia and South America and everywhere on this planet, we all speak HTML and Unicode and TCP-IP and HTTP. So why isn't there more global cultural interchange going on?