A journalist meets the 2015 Nobel Prize winner at the Louisiana Literature festival: “She was reluctant, when asked, to describe the evolution of her style. (‘Must I explain everything?’) … ‘When I walk my dog in Minsk, I go past a church,’ she told the festival audience, ‘I see the youth with their new cars. The priest comes out to see them. They want their cars to be blessed.’ This is how she prefers to answer questions – through details. … When the interview ended, after forty minutes, I figured Alexievich had had enough. … Back in New York, a few weeks later, I read the transcript: The translator, mindful of Alexievich’s schedule, had suggested we end the interview much earlier than we had. Alexievich declined and started to ask me questions.”
“With some 60 million monthly users—90% of whom are Millennials and Gen Z—spending more than 15 billion minutes per month reading content on Wattpad, the Canadian-based storytelling platform is a goldmine of information about what’s most popular with young readers around the world. What’s unique about Wattpad is that fanfic is treated like any other genre, living alongside other forms of fiction. This makes it more fluid for readers of an original fiction to discover a new fanfic, or inspire a fanfiction writer to start a new story and bring their audience along with them.”
After the notoriously publicity-shy author died in 2010, it was reported that, over all the years since his last published work (a 1965 short story), he never stopped writing. Indeed, a 2013 documentary alleged that Salinger had left detailed instructions about publishing some of those writings posthumously. Asked about this by a reporter, son Matthew Salinger replied, “Yeah, what came of those?” So the reporter checked in with the documentarian.
“A group of academics at the University of Cambridge is considering how to implement a call from undergraduates to ‘decolonise’ its English literature syllabus by taking in more black and minority ethnic writers, and bringing post-colonial thought to its existing curriculum. The debate is being followed closely by other universities.”
“The right cover is like a beautiful coat, elegant and warm, wrapping my words as they travel through the world, on their way to keep an appointment with my readers. The wrong cover is cumbersome, suffocating. Or it is like a too-light sweater: inadequate.” Ernest Hemingway was less diplomatic in his response to the heraldic figure composition on the jacket for A Farewell to Arms, designed by Cleonike (“Cleon”) Damianakes in 1929: “I cannot admire the awful legs on that woman or the gigantic belly muscles [on the man],” he wrote to his editor.
“Leon Wieseltier, a prominent editor at The New Republic for three decades who was preparing to unveil a new magazine next week, apologized on Tuesday for ‘offenses against some of my colleagues in the past’ after several women accused him of sexual harassment and inappropriate advances. As those allegations came to light, Laurene Powell Jobs, a leading philanthropist whose for-profit organization, Emerson Collective, was backing Mr. Wieseltier’s endeavor, decided to pull the plug on it.”
Laura Miller: “The ‘personal essays’ that have proliferated across the internet on topics ranging from freakish hygiene gaffes to incestuous relationships are often not really essays at all, but short memoirs, confessional narratives whose chief interest lies in the unusually awful or awfully unusual stories they tell, and only secondarily in how those stories are told. … It doesn’t have to be this way! In its less sensational (and, let’s face it, less profitable) form, the essay collection presents its reader with the opportunity to hitch herself to an original mind as it pursues a course plotted by its own idiosyncratic, free-range curiosity.” (For example, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, Cynthia Ozick, Francis Spufford.)
“They initially thought kids playing pranks were to blame, but later discovered it was the city’s rough sleepers who were actually stashing the books so they could return the next day to continue reading.”
In doing so, Kirkus, one of the country’s most prolific book reviews, has somehow managed to misapprehend both the nature of reviewing and the nature of books. As I’ve written in this magazine, criticism exists in different flavors, but its defining feature is an individualism of response. That response can be wise or unwise, popular or unpopular. A reviewer can squander authority by seeming too often at odds with good judgment. But, without critical autonomy, the enterprise falls apart.
“The man is the true impersonation of his book – rough, uncouth, vulgar. … Walt Whitman is as unacquainted with art as a hog is with mathematics.”
“On September 24, conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos made a brief visit to Berkeley, an event that drew police from around the region. That evening, a band of between 30 and 40 right-wing activists stormed Revolution Books. The attackers recorded the episode on video, rattling windows and confronting patrons. Since the initial incident, these activists have orchestrated at least five more visits to the store – posting their exploits in online videos.”
“Our half-century intermezzo has witnessed the dominance of television, the Internet, and mobile, as well as changing taste and business models. Consequently, only three [magazine] titles appear on both lists. If nothing else, the shifts between ’67 and ’17 demonstrate how most magazines follow a life cycle: often-difficult births, brash youthfulness, midlife success, and retirement at the back of the newsstand rack—or solely in the archives.”
“Two different hitters will generally talk the same game, but then one gets in and hits a homer and the other strikes out. (And that hitter is you, the writer, on different days, even.) So: an element of mystery has to pertain—which I really like…this idea of writing as more of a muscular, visceral act, in which the writer brings all that she is to that moment but can’t really explain what happens next.”
“To put books into English, the vulgar tongue, the language of the masses, was once radical. Teaching literature written in English is a recent innovation, historically speaking, and was long regarded in the more renowned institutions as a lowering of standards. It is still the case in some countries that the work of living writers is excluded from the curriculum, perhaps a sign of lingering prejudice against the vernacular, against what people say and think now, in the always disparaged present. In America this scruple is gone and forgotten. Writers not yet dead, in many cases only emerging, are read and pondered, usually under a rubric of some kind that makes them representative of gender or ethnicity or region, therefore instances of some perspective or trend often of greater interest to the professor than to any of the writers.”
It makes no sense, says novelist Tibor Fischer, and it hurts British writers. “British writers aren’t eligible for the big American awards. The stipulation that American writers have to be published in the UK doesn’t help much as, by definition, the strongest and most successful American authors are the ones that cross over.”
Lidia Yuknavitch: “If he had not whispered into my ear the words that he did the first time I met him, ‘I know what happened to you. Death’s a motherfucker,’ bonding us in a single second with two dead children between us, my beautiful tiny girl infant and his beautifully strong wrestler son, second selves, hovering between our bodies, I don’t know if I would have trusted anyone or anything in the world again.”
The author of Never Use Future says that we have to change the conversation. “People know not to use Comic Sans and maybe Papyrus ― those are things you just shouldn’t do. But very rarely do people understand why they should use a typeface.”
Nick Kristof runs a contest, and here’s part of one response:
“I’ve told myself my voice alone
Won’t make a difference, but that I
Should not interpret that: Don’t try.”
“Initially, 37 per cent of my 30 students – undergraduates at Boston University – were angry or annoyed about this experiment. While my previous policy leveraged public humiliation, it didn’t dictate what they did with their phones in class. For some, putting their phones into cases seemed akin to caging a pet, a clear denial of freedom. Yet by the end of the semester, only 14 per cent felt negatively about the pouches; 11 per cent were ‘pleasantly surprised’; 7 per cent were ‘relieved’; and 21 per cent felt ‘fine’ about them.”
Would Kirkus’s reviewer have changed her mind independently, even if the review hadn’t been pulled for evaluation? Or did she feel pressured to alter what had proven to be a deeply unpopular opinion when asked if she wanted to, even without explicit instructions to do so? What is clear, though, is that the choice to un-star American Heart reflects something noteworthy about Kirkus’sframework for critique — one in which a book’s value is determined not just by the quality of its storytelling, but also by its politics.
“Community policing officers will carry books while they are making their rounds on the city’s North and South sides. They’ll still respond to certain emergencies, but won’t be dispatched to calls for help, freeing them up to visit neighborhoods without libraries and give away books to anyone who wants them. The program is the first of its kind in the country, organizers say.”
“When Borders opened in 2002 across the street from Readings, Melbourne’s best-known independent bookseller, retail experts predicted catastrophe for the musty old shop competing with the shiny new chain store. Instead, Australians rejected Borders right into bankruptcy.” As Amazon launches its book business there, Damien Cave reports, there’s a chance it may not catch on much better than Borders did, thanks to some unique features of the Australian market.
As researchers in learning and text comprehension, our recent work has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it.
“Local councils have seized on the volunteer idea as an easy answer to budget cuts. Each local authority has struggled to find its own solutions, with local residents doing whatever they can. The commitment of volunteers is wholly admirable, but the result is that as a country, we have been left without a coherent library service and we have seen no real attempt to find out how well community-run libraries work.”
Ultimately, the reasons for a noteworthy author’s obscurity are as various as the authors themselves. Fowler’s findings show that other contributing factors seem to include underrating their own work, reclusiveness, and genre (with notable exceptions, comic writers tend not to be taken seriously enough to preserve). The caprices of fashion hit populist fiction especially hard; striving as it does to capture the mindset of its time, it’s inevitably more perishable.
“Languages are dying out at an astonishing rate: a language is being lost every two weeks. And each of those languages has a poetic tradition of some sort, whether it’s written or aural – within that poetry will be all the different approaches and styles of writing poetry, as well as everything that poetry can tell us about those people: what they’re interested in; what their concerns are.”
“In one of their odder and more chilling moves, the Nazis occupying Lithuania once collected Yiddish and Hebrew books and documents, hoping to create a reference collection about a people they intended to annihilate. Even stranger, they appointed Jewish intellectuals and poets to select the choicest pearls for study.”
The novel Spy of the First Person, on which the playwright/actor began working just after he was diagnosed with ALS (of which he died in July) and which his daughters and his old friend Patti Smith helped him complete, is “the story of an unnamed narrator who retraces the memories of his life as he undergoes treatment for a medical condition that renders him dependent on the loved ones who are caring for him.”
“The novel matters because and so on. By which I mean that I’ve come to believe that all the arts are about time, but that the novel in particular is about the and-so-on of things, continuance and continuity, the continuum. It’s a form, too, very interested in the workings of society, so it tells us about how we’re living, who we’re living with, and where we are in the endless social structural cycle that eventually gets called history.”
“Saunders is the second American in a row to win the Booker prize, after last year’s winner Paul Beatty. Saunders’ win falls four years after eligibility rules were changed to allow writers of any nationality writing in the English language and published in the UK. There has been fierce criticism of the rule change.”