“What makes this volume such a pleasure to read, and what makes it the best book of modern religious thought in recent memory, is its demand that dialogue be a central part of worship.”—Jessica Freeman-Slade, on The New American Haggadah, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer and translated by Nathan Englander.
“I have an awareness about myself that I think many people these days have, about myself being a constructed amalgamated thing, and it’s because of that awareness that I sometimes feel disquieted by the idea of relinquishing whatever principle or set of principles that is holding it together.
Writing a poem is a way to engage with that multidimensionality and my own subjectivity in a way that makes me feel a considerable amount of authority or control over it. I often think of this being a place where I am building something of the representation of a mind that is becoming its own voice, by folding through a borrowed language and by folding my reading and experience, other people’s experiences, things that catch my eye on the television, things I hear on the radio, things I read in the paper and the magazine. There’s a radical kind of collage aspect to my poems, even if the variousness of the bits of data and the tiles assembled in my mosaic are always brought into some kind of harmony and sense of a unity, of a wholeness.”—BR Poetry Editor Timothy Donnelly (via bostonreview)
“Here are a few things I don’t usually tell people: I thought The Police really were law enforcement and I understood the song “Rock Lobster” to be “Rock Monster” for years. (Even now I had to double check I was not mixing it up, again.) How can a girl growing up in hip Ann Arbor in the 1970s and ’80s be so hopeless?”—Hip to Be Square: Confessions of an Out-of-the-Loop Parent by Jessica Francis Kane
“I’m glad I haven’t read anything Leonard wrote about Nixon after 1975. My guess is it would be like watching someone empty an Uzi into a lifeless Clydesdale.”—John Leonard Died for Our Sins by Bill Morris
“As [Jonah] Lehrer writes, ‘Until we understand the set of mental events that give rise to new thoughts, we will never understand what makes us so special.’ This claim raises the stakes for the book. The problem is, it’s probably just not true.”—It’s All in Your Head: The Problems With Jonah Lehrer’sImagine by Tim Requarth and Meehan Crist
“But the big five and Apple are not in a good position to cry foul. First, the publishers, at least, are terrified of speaking out at the risk of upsetting relations with their largest customer. Second, they and Apple have been quite happy to exploit their own monopolistic position when it’s suited them in the past. And third, it may be that they did indeed collude and, under the letter of the law, are guilty.”—Amazon v. Apple by Colin Robinson
“You can still make books where stuff happens. I don’t think you necessarily have to be some kind of high postmodernist and refuse any kind of stability of meaning. One way I’ve found is through the use of silence and the use of incompleteness, because that demands a kind of active reading. It demands something from the reader — a kind of collusion with the writer.”—
“The villains are chilling; the order of veiled monks who stalk Joe and Edie are a hive-mind nightmare who remind me of nothing so much as the Borg.”—Nick Harkaway’sAngelmaker reviewed by Emily St. John Mandel
“Keep an audio book or two on your iPhone. Periodically I take the largest of my family’s dogs on long walks, and I stick my iPhone in my shirt pocket, its tiny speaker facing up. I’ve listened to Saul Bellow’s ‘Herzog’ this way. The shirt pocket method is better than using ear buds, which block out the natural world. My wife tucks her phone into her bra, on long walks, and listens to Dickens novels. I find this unbearably sexy.”—The Way We Read Now by Dwight Garner
“So what does it mean for the country that our cultural common denominator is shrinking? That increasingly Americans have very little experiences through which to understand the lives of our fellow citizens? And why, in the midst of these trends is there general agreement on an issue as potentially flammable as contraception?”—If this article by Kevin Hartnett was dramatized, it’d be him jumping onto a flaming trampoline, doing six frontflips, slam dunking a basketball into a net, then landing on his feet to the sound of uproarious applause.
“Our own culture, under the spell of Grimm and Perrault, has favored fairy tales starring girls rather than boys, princesses rather than princes. But Schönwerth’s stories show us that once upon a time, Cinderfellas evidently suffered right alongside Cinderellas, and handsome young men fell into slumbers nearly as deep as Briar Rose’s hundred-year nap. Just as girls became domestic drudges and suffered under the curse of evil mothers and stepmothers, boys, too, served out terms as gardeners and servants, sometimes banished into the woods by hostile fathers. Like Snow White, they had to plead with a hunter for their lives. And they are as good as they are beautiful—Schönwerth uses the German term “schön,” or beautiful, for both male and female protagonists.”—Remember those 500 fairy tales that were discovered a few weeks ago? Apparently they were a bit more “modern” than the standard Grimm’s fare.
“The wallflower sat reading in the Paris restaurant. There used to be so many categories of wallflower: the anxious, smiling, tense ones who leaned forward, trying; the important, busy, apparently elsewhere preoccupied ones, who were nonetheless waiting, waiting in the carpeted offices of their inattention, to be found. There were wallflowers who clustered noisily together, and others who worked a territory, resolute and alone. And then, there were wallflowers who had recognized for years that the thing was hopeless, who had found in that information a kind of calm. They no longer tried, with a bright and desperate effort, to sustain a conversation with somebody’s brother, somebody’s usher, somebody’s roommate, somebody’s roommate’s usher’s brother, or, worst of all, with that male wallflower who ought — by God, who ought — to be an ally, who could, in dignity and the common interest, join forces to make it through an evening, but who, after all, had higher aspirations, and neither the sense nor the courtesy to conceal it, who, in short, scorned the partner fate and the placement had dealt him, worst of all. The category of wallflower who had given up on all this was very quiet, not indifferent, only quiet. And she always brought a book.”—Speedboat, Renata Adler (via kelsfjord)
Clean Bill of Health: The Novel’s Myriad Roads to Recovery
As the luminaries raced to diagnose Literature as if they were doctors on the season finale of House, 21st-century Literature was going viral on the Internet and in the little magazines. You lived through it, so I’ll spare you the details, but please tolerate 10 quick bullet points (in no special order) illustrating how vigorously literature and publishing were shaken during the 10 years since Franzen’s essay appeared:
Oprah’s Book Club went supernova.
Entire forests breathed sighs of relief as dozens of print book review sections went the way of the Dodo.
Online venues like this one have replaced or at least supplemented the literary supplements.
Millions of devoted bibliophiles reluctantly began e-reading.
Instead of disappearing, print became more democratized, insofar as anyone with access to word processing software and a few hundred dollars can publish their own book in seven to 10 business days.
Tiny presses and lit mags are sprouting like tulips or dandelions, depending on your worldview.
Those tiny presses are now winning Pulitzers and National Book Awards and National Book Critics Circle Awards, and those tiny lit mags are landing more stories and essays in the Best anthologies.
“Literary” genre novels are A-OK!
The mainstream pop entertainment complex regularly taps literary novelists like Franzen, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran Foer, Richard Price, David Benioff, Jennifer Egan, and others to provide rich source material for big-budget dramas.
A writer like Ben Marcus, whose sublimely weird The Age of Wire and String originally appeared with Dalkey Archive, is now published by Knopf, complete with prominent coverage in major outlets, a swell tour, and a trippy trailer.
Now I’m neither a doctor nor an esteemed literary critic, but it seems that either the literary culture has made a miraculous recovery, or it wasn’t that sick in the first place.
“Constructing a sentence is the equivalent of taking a Polaroid snapshot: pressing the button, and watching something emerge. To write one is to document and to develop at the same time. Not all sentences end up in novels or stories. But novels and stories consist of nothing but. Sentences are the bricks as well as the mortar, the motor as well as the fuel. They are the cells, the individual stitches. Their nature is at once solitary and social. Sentences establish tone, and set the pace. One in front of the other marks the way.”—Jhumpa Lahiri, “My Life’s Sentences”
The famous Library at Alexandria, at its largest, housed perhaps as many as 500,000 scrolls, or the equivalent of some 25,000 books. A quaint number: ten years ago, we were publishing, in the U.S., around ten times that a year. Now, we publish that many every two and a half days.
Anyone with access to a networked computer can publish a book, or ten, or a hundred. Anyone with 500 bucks can see their book into print, and the novel that once would have lived its entire live in a drawer is now more likely to be downloadable. A manuscript that might never have found a home in the twentieth century, certainly not at a “legitimate” publisher as they were called, can now, with very little effort, be ordered online, printed in a run of one, and mailed to a buyer in a matter of hours. We used to call them vanity presses, the companies that helped people publish books not wanted by the traditional, commercial publishing world; now such companies are more often touted as the new business model.
We plan to run a series of pieces on the evolving book world, from independent solo ventures to micro publishers to small presses to the new mini-majors to the Big Six and the 600-pound gorilla. Getting us started is Joseph Peschel, a freelance journalist from South Dakota. He interviews a wide variety of people who have self-published, some happily, some less so, some unworried by the stigma, some with their hands bloody, some embarrassed, some victorious.
— Tom Lutz
JOSEPH PESCHEL Editors, reviewers, and even many authors believe that if you self-publish, you’re branded a sinner of sorts. You wear a scarlet S-P, signifying that you can’t get published because your work is inferior. If you promote your own work on the Internet, you must sheepishly precede the phrase “self-promotion” with “shameless.” It’s difficult to quantify the extent of the stigma, but we all know that publishing your own work has been frowned upon by writers for decades. Recently, genre authors Amanda Hocking (who writes young adult vampire novels) and John Locke (pulp thrillers) have had so much success independently publishing and selling hundreds of thousands of their own books that you’d think the self-publishing wall would’ve been kicked down and lying in a crumbled mess by now. But the stigma attached to publishing, promoting, and selling your own written word persists. Most writers, like Susan Shapiro, who’s written for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and has conventionally published eight books, including comic novels and nonfiction through St. Martin’s Press and Delacorte, remain convinced that it’s better to get a mainstream publisher. Shapiro, who’s helped hundreds of her students get published, recently told me she would consider self-publishing, but only “if everybody else turned me down.”
No one ever faulted Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Quentin Tarantino, or Charlie Chaplin for writing, directing, and producing their own movies. No one disrespects musicians for distributing their music without a major label behind them. And poets — think of Walt Whitman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and the authors of contemporary poetry chapbooks — have long been used to publishing their own work. Why then should independent publishing be regarded any differently? Especially when even established writers, in today’s traditional publication market, can have difficulty getting their publishers and agents behind a book? A slumping economy has pushed already-teetering bookstores into bankruptcy, further squeezed publishers’ profits, and reduced and in some cases eliminated book review space.
"Luckily it was not Sunday, so An Dun, the only café on the island of Inishmaan, was open. I had ducked inside for shelter from the storm that was raging outside. The cold Irish rain had been coming down hard all day and my clothes were totally soaked through, but I had been determined to explore the island regardless. In the middle of the afternoon, however, I realized I needed a dry place to rest. So inside the café, I sat near the window and warmed up with a pot of tea and a bowl of soup. Outside, the ivy-covered Bronze Age stone ringfort Dun Conor towered over the road on the summit of the hill."
Discussing the ways elitism codes itself into language, the editors of n+1 offer, “When Al Gore said his favorite book was Stendhal’s Red and the Black, this could be boiled down to mean, You know what? I’m an upper-class guy who went to Harvard.” It’s a great observation — the kind n+1 editorials are full of. The next sentence, however, is something strange. Not content to leave the point where it stands, the editors add, almost offhandedly, “Of course, everyone with power in America is an upper-class guy who went to Harvard.”
A fairly innocuous statement, until you realize that nearly everyone on n+1’s editorial board went to Harvard — the lone exceptions of the six-person group being a graduate from Columbia and a graduate from Wesleyan. Hearing that everyone who matters in the world went to Harvard isn’t, in and of itself, all that obnoxious — unless you’re hearing it from four people who went to Harvard. Then it’s really, really obnoxious.
“For me, reading Amsterdam Stories was like watching Casablanca. Much of Casablanca has become cliché. The famous lines are quoted so often, and the famous scenes are such a part of our culture, we’ve seen the movie before we’ve actually seen it. And yet, even though we’ve heard them a hundred times, even though we know they’re coming, the famous lines are still powerful. They are surrounded by such inherent and integral beauty, that what should make us roll our eyes, takes our breath away. In Casablanca we hear “a hill of beans” and “here’s looking at you, kid.” In Amsterdam Stories we read “And I puff on my pipe in all humility, and feel like God himself, who is infinity itself. I sit there aimlessly. God’s aim is aimlessness. But to keep this awareness always is granted to no man.”—Josh Cook, “The Crushing Beauty of Nescio’s Amsterdam Stories”
“Now I’m neither a doctor nor an esteemed literary critic, but it seems that either the literary culture has made a miraculous recovery, or it wasn’t that sick in the first place. Which is to say that when those famous writers were so certain the patient was ailing, perhaps they were looking at the wrong patient.”—Clean Bill of Health: The Novel’s Myriad Roads to Recovery by Chris Feliciano Arnold