Saturday, November 30, 2013

"[...] a tool to show possible buyers"

Huckleberry Finn was already in press in 1884 when publisher Charles L. Webster received an alarmed letter from an advance salesman: A mischievous engraver had altered the illustration above to give it a rather darker character (NSFW).
     It certainly puts a new spin on the caption.
     Despite a reward of $500, the prankster was never identified. Webster had to call back all published copies of the novel, cut out the plate, and tip in a new one, delaying publication past the Christmas season. But it’s fortunate they caught it when they did — it could have ruined Mark Twain’s career."
Futility Closet
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“[…] It was too easy. Someone took the opportunity handed to him by the gods (most likely Loki or Hermes, depending on one’s cultural preference) and went for it. As with Twain’s other books, salesmen flooded American cities attempting to sell the book [Huckleberry Finn] through subscription before it was published. In lieu of showing a copy of the book that hadn’t yet been completed, the salesmen were given a prospectus as a tool to show possible buyers what the finished product would look like. The prospectus mimicked the binding of the book (including samples of the more expensive leather options), portions of the text, and examples of the illustrations. It was one of these traveling salesmen who first discovered the problem.
     The Uncle Silas plate had been defaced. A couple of minor strokes onto the engraved plate had given Uncle Silas a penis, sticking out obscenely in Huck’s direction. Uncle Silas was exposing himself to the boy.
     Suddenly Mrs. Phelps’s odd smile and the caption took on a new meaning.”
Aldine by Rebecca Romney
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"Castle Used Bookstore, Hay-on-Wye, Wales" – bookporn

“… a pinch of irony”

From: Z_loft

“Arms folded and cheek pressed on the keys. Sooner or later, at home or at work, we all end up by falling asleep on our computer’s keyboard. Turning the archetypal image of a keyboard, into a sofa bed, QWERTY is proposed to hold you on its soft 'keys' on evenings while working in the office or at home on a rainy afternoons spent watching the home video, bringing a pinch of irony in our daily life.
     Anyway QWERTY is much more than a sofa bed. Thanks to micro electric motors controlled by a remote control, every single key/cushion is adjustable in height to give total freedom to the full available surface. In this way, the furniture becomes a playful carpet, a comfortable support but an unconventional surface, to let the users to be able to design new configurations useful for everyday life, and to be happy to finally sleep on their keyboard.”
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Wordist's Block

In my darkest moments of advising budding writers, I used to say, “I have two words for all of you: ‘Plumber,’ and ‘Dentist.’”
     Now, bolstered by hard evidence (see below), I can streamline that suggestion:"Seek out a profession whose title has 'ist' at the end of it — but if you can't be swayed, try calling yourself a “Wordist.”

“Oops, did I mess up big time?! And you think you might want to be a writer too? Well, our chosen profession and vocation just happen to come out low and rock bottom in terms of career choices. At least according to, via the Wall Street Journal. Their poll of the Best and Worst Jobs of 2013, listing the top – and bottom – 200 professions, ranked “Author” as No. 156 and “Newspaper Reporter” as No. 200. Bummer, eh? If I’d turned right instead of left along that critical career path, I could have aspired to the heights of No. 1: “Actuary.” […]

   The lesson is clear. Parents, keep books away from your children at all costs. Except actuarial textbooks. Allow no Word in your house. Discourage all access to literature or fine writing whatsoever. You never know what bad habits they might pick up.
     And adults, any time you feel that deadly, seductive temptation to write words creeping over you, don’t hesitate: Call The heights of actuarydom await you.
     (The Society of Actuaries has confirmed that no actual actuaries were upset in the course of writing this article.)”
— Paul St John Mackintosh, TeleRead
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A gift from Nicholson Baker — who looks a lot like Santa Claus now

Nicholson Baker (Credit: AP/Pat Wellenbach/Salon) via Salon

“It’s very hard to put it in practice if you’re busy doing other things. For a while I was working with old newspapers; we were taking care of them in New Hampshire and people were coming to visit me as I played the role of an amateur librarian and I was asking people to help out with funding, so I had to get up very early in order to write every day. More recently, I have begun to realize that one writes in bursts. When you’re in the middle of writing a book, it’s very exciting and consuming and you think about nothing else, and then there are other periods where you are doing something else — I might be trying to write a song or maybe traveling places, giving readings or something, so I fudge a lot where I think, 'OK, did you write anything, did you write a text? Did you write an email? Did you write just notes on a scrap of paper? Did you write something?' So that’s how I get around it sometimes, by stretching the definition.
     Paul Chowder, the protagonist of my new novel, Traveling Sprinkler, is my soul mate and most of what is going through his head is also going through my head, although in sexual situations we’re a little different. But the thing that I found about writing is it’s wonderfully wasteful and that’s part of the usefulness of it. If you write every day, you’re going to write a lot of things that aren’t terribly good, but you’re going to have given things a chance to have their moments of sprouting.”
— Nicholson Baker, Salon

See a related post about Nicholson Baker’s latest book here…

Friday, November 29, 2013


"Howard University, 1946" (from: LIFE via  40's 50's 60's)

In the Beginning...

From: La Veja

“The name 'Codex Sinaiticus' literally means 'the Sinai Book'. It reflects two important aspects of the manuscript: its form and a very special place in its history.
     'Codex' means 'book'. By the time Codex Sinaiticus was written, works of literature were increasingly written on sheets that were folded and bound together in a format that we still use to this day. This book format was steadily replacing the roll format which was more widespread just a century before when texts were written on one side of a series of sheets glued together to make a roll. These rolls were made of animal skin (like most of the Dead Sea Scrolls) or the papyrus plant (commonly used for Greek and Latin literature).
     Using the papyrus codex was a distinctive feature of early Christian culture. The pages of Codex Sinaiticus however are of prepared animal skin called parchment. This marks it out as standing at an important transition in book history. Before it we see many examples of Greek and Latin texts on papyrus roll or papyrus codex, but almost no traces of parchment codices. After it, the parchment codex becomes normative.”
Codex Sinaiticus

“Despite its rather austere appearance, the Codex Sinaiticus is a treasure beyond price. Produced in the middle of the fourth century, its bound parchment pages hold the full canon of the Christian Bible and more […]
     Told here is the compelling story of how the Codex Sinaiticus was created and used in the ancient church; how it was preserved for centuries at the monastery of St. Catherine’s, Mount Sinai; its subsequent history and how its pages came to be divided and dispersed; and how it has been compiled again and made accessible to a worldwide audience for the first time.
     Publication in June 2009 coincides with the launch of the Codex Sinaiticus Project website, which includes a digitized 'virtual edition' of one of the most famous and remarkable manuscripts in the history of the church, the Bible, and book production in general.”
Read more…

Buy this book here...

a giant in the shadows

“Perhaps you’ve heard of [Margaret] ‘Maggie’ Millar. She’s a literary suspense author who, at the onset of World War II, explored female characters as they battled the daily accretions of frustrated ambition and blocked power, often while trying to keep a grip on their own sanity.
     Later, in the 1960s, Maggie’s perspective expanded, and she delved into the mores and corruptions of a stratified society that resembles our own today. She dissected the delusions of the Golden State at a time when the rest of the country still believed in the eternal sunshine of the Edenic kind. The people who lived in this paradise, and lived in Millar’s fiction, often reached far beyond their financial or moral means, playing dangerous games that pitted loved ones against each other. Sometimes, these people escaped the law, but they always wound up serving some sort of life sentence.
     Maggie, who spent much of her life in Santa Barbara, ranks among the best fiction writers of the late 20th century. She was a master of character, a genius of plot twists, and a superb stylist. It’s rare to find those three talents in one literary package, yet, over the course of a 55-year-long career, Maggie maintained her high standards throughout her 27 books, short stories, half a dozen screenplays, poems, radio stories, and one touching memoir. Plus, she did it while struggling to raise a child, keep a house, and deal with a husband who later became more famous than she.
     Perhaps you’ve heard of Ken Millar. He wrote under the pseudonym of Ross Macdonald and created the Lew Archer detective series, which paid homage to the hard-boiled detective masters Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler, and he eventually joined them in that genre’s pantheon of men.
     Maggie was never included in that group, which annoyed her greatly.”
 — Los Angeles Review of Books
Read more…

See a related post here…

Buy all of Margaret Millar's books here...

An Open Book

From: doublebinding

“A Toronto woman denied a flight to New York as part of a cruise trip wants to know who told U.S. border agents about her history of mental illness.
     Ellen Richardson says she was turned away by a U.S. customs agent at Pearson International Airport on Monday because she had been hospitalized for clinical depression in June 2012.
     She missed her flight to New York City and a Caribbean cruise, for which she had paid $6,000, as a result.”
CBC via Huffington Post
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If border officials are making decisions based on medical records, what’s to stop them from checking on reading habits as well?

“For centuries, reading has largely been a solitary and private act, an intimate exchange between the reader and the words on the page. But the rise of digital books has prompted a profound shift in the way we read, transforming the activity into something measurable and quasi-public.
     The major new players in e-book publishing—Amazon, Apple and Google—can easily track how far readers are getting in books, how long they spend reading them and which search terms they use to find books. Book apps for tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook record how many times readers open the app and how much time they spend reading. Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books.”
— Alexandra Alter, The Wall Street Journal
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“As recent weeks [July/August, 2013] of revelations [about the flagrant invasiveness of the NSA] have shown, there's a pretty wide gap between our expectations of privacy, and the privacies that an increasingly digitized world actually affords us. Whatever your feelings about your own privacy, the complexity and opacity of technology means it's often hard to know exactly what information you might be sharing at any given time. And while browsing in a local library, buying a book – with cash – on the high street, and reading at home or on the bus are pretty anonymous activities, as soon as ebooks are involved they're not.”
— James Bridle, The Guardian
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Thursday, November 28, 2013

big book, small book

Both photos from Erik Kwakkel


"In The Land Across, veteran science fiction master Gene Wolfe comes down to earth and gives us the story of a travel writer stuck in limbo in just such a strange land. The writer, named Grafton, has it in mind to write the first travel book about an unnamed Eastern European nation that he thinks of as 'the land across the mountains.' (Other western travelers have apparently visited the region, but few have returned.) Grafton finds that he can't get there by air: flights get mysteriously cancelled or diverted to Turkey. Determined to become the first travel writer to publish a book about the place, he takes a train across the border. He's immediately arrested — the authorities take his passport and deliver him to a house in a nearby suburban neighborhood where, as the odd custom of the odd country would have it, he becomes the prisoner of the owner. […]
     Life in this nation, as it emerges in these pages, appears to have more affinity with Kafka country than any other. Grafton's internment, his efforts to buy a place to live on his own, his relations with the wife of his "jailor," his encounters with the JAKA, the secret police, his liaison with a JAKA agent, and the local manifestations of a darkly supernatural strain of events: all this makes for a novel that's an amalgam of real and super-real forces, a supposedly realistic novel that gives off the feel of a closely viewed dream.”
— Alan Cheuse, NPR Books
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Buy all of Gene Wolfe’s books here…

dirty books

“Traces of herpes have been found on a copy of EL James’ popular erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey.
     Scientists in Belgium were undertaking an experiment to see how germ-covered library books are when the bestselling series tested positive for the virus.
     Herpes was found on one other title among the examined books, Belgian detective writer Pieter Aspe’s Tango.
     Reactions to the findings have been mixed, with one Time reader asking, ‘Are we slut-shaming books now?.’
     Traces of cocaine were also found in EL James' series, after scientists conducted toxicology screenings on the library's ten most-borrowed books.”
— Jess Denham, The Independent
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By spanking-new copies of these books here...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

“[…] a world without inwardness.”

“In Henry James's 1893 short story The Private Life, the narrator makes alarming discoveries about two members of his holiday party while holed up in a village in the Swiss Alps. After an evening spent listening to the table-talk of the London playwright Clarence 'Clare' Vawdrey, he steals up to Vawdrey's room where he sees, 'bent over the table in the attitude of writing,' the man he thought he'd left downstairs in the company of his friends. Vawdrey, it seems, is double: there is his public self, which according to the narrator is burdened by 'neither moods nor sensibilities,' and his private, writing self, which remains hidden.
     The effortlessly suave raconteur Lord Mellifont, meanwhile, suffers from the 'opposite complaint.' He is 'all public,' the narrator says, he has 'no corresponding private life.' There's nothing behind the pristine mask of his public self: Mellifont is all performance.
     Josh Cohen discusses this story in his elegant and suggestive book. For him, James's tale can be read as a premonitory parable of the modern culture of celebrity, at the centre of which is the public's apparently insatiable demand for celebrities to be 'no more or less than they appear' – that, like Lord Mellifont, they show us everything. Celebrities themselves collude in this demand and go to considerable lengths, as Cohen puts it, to 'disappear seamlessly' into their public persona. They persuade their acolytes that there's nothing left over, no private remainder that, Vawdrey-like, they keep locked away from prying eyes.”
— Jonathan Derbyshire, The Guardian
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Buy this book here...

time warp

I bought this book in 1965 for 50 cents (no tax). In today’s dollars that would be $2.83, give or take a dime or two to cover the exchange rate (the Canadian dollar was worth about 93 cents US in 1965). So let’s say the book really cost me $3.00 in today’s dollars.
     No wonder people are drawn to the bargain basement world of e-books.

Good Grooming

“At first glance, it would seem that Wendy Moore, a lively English journalist and social historian, has written an account of Victor Frankenstein’s reluctant endeavors to present his monster with the wife the lonely creature so desperately craves. Not so. Moore’s extraordinary subject is the compellingly repellent historical figure Thomas Day, a children’s book writer and ardent abolitionist.
     Fatherless but possessed of a fortune from a very early age, Day had a predilection for the sadistic treatment of vulnerable young women, a habit that seems to have been formed by his own capacity for stoically enduring — even thriving upon — the rough treatment meted out at the Charterhouse school. Seventeen-hour days and 'roastings' in front of a blazing fire were as regular a part of the curriculum for Day and his schoolmates as public floggings. What had been good for Thomas (or so this sullen, unkempt and exceptionally arrogant youth seems to have reckoned by the time he reached Corpus Christi College at Oxford) would also prove beneficial to his future wife. […]
     Acting in cahoots with John Bicknell, a lifelong friend from Charterhouse, Day visited the smaller Shrewsbury sister-branch of London’s Foundling Hospital and later the main hospital itself. At that time, children could be adopted from such institutions to become apprentices, and Bicknell and Day put the unknowing Edgeworth forth as a potential employer, performing a dual act of abduction. Two pretty little girls, one auburn-haired and one blond, were singled out, renamed Sabrina and Lucretia, and carried off to be trained as potential brides for Thomas Day.”
— Miranda Seymour, The New York Times
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Buy this book here...


Photo: Folded Sky Productions

“Chilling news for readers and writers alike: A new report has found that large numbers of American writers are concerned about government surveillance and are self-censoring their writing as a result.
     Some 85 percent of writers are worried about government surveillance of Americans, with 73 percent responding they have never been as worried about privacy rights and freedom of the press as they are today, according to a survey by the PEN American Center and the FDR Group.
     'Freedom of expression is under threat and, as a result, freedom of information is imperiled as well,' the report stated.
     The report, which surveyed 528 PEN members in October, found that government spying, including surveillance by the National Security Agency, has had a serious chilling effect on writers, some of whom are avoiding speaking about or writing on controversial topics as a result.”
— Husna Haq, The Christian Science Monitor
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“The [NSA] document [provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden] contends that the three Arabic-speaking targets have more contacts with affiliates of extremist groups, but does not suggest they themselves are involved in any terror plots. Instead, the NSA believes the targeted individuals radicalize people through the expression of controversial ideas via YouTube, Facebook and other social media websites. Their audience, both English and Arabic speakers, 'includes individuals who do not yet hold extremist views but who are susceptible to the extremist message,' the document states. The NSA says the speeches and writings of the six individuals resonate most in countries including the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Kenya, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia. […]
From: International Herald Tribune (via Writing Cave)
     Another target [of surveillance], a foreign citizen the NSA describes as a 'respected academic,' holds the offending view that 'offensive jihad is justified,' and his vulnerabilities are listed as 'online promiscuity' and 'publishes articles without checking facts.' A third targeted radical is described as a 'well-known media celebrity' based in the Middle East who argues that 'the U.S perpetrated the 9/11 attack.' Under vulnerabilities, he is said to lead 'a glamorous lifestyle.' A fourth target, who argues that 'the U.S. brought the 9/11 attacks on itself' is said to be vulnerable to accusations of 'deceitful use of funds.' The document expresses the hope that revealing damaging information about the individuals could undermine their perceived 'devotion to the jihadist cause.’”
— Ryan Gallagher, Ryan Grim, Glenn Greenwald; Huffington Post

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Victor Hugo's Manuscript for "Les Mis" from 1862

From: Retronaut

jumpin' jacket flash... it's a gas, gas, gas.

From: Orbit Books, via GalleyCat

Buy all of David Dalglish's books here...

Let’s play Gatekeeper

From: The Thesis WHisperer

“Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page. […]
     Let’s see just how strong the opening page is—would this have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer? Do you think it’s compelling? Following is what would be the first manuscript page (17 lines) of Chapter 1. […]”
— Ray Rhamey, Writer Unboxed
Read the opening page here…

“With great power comes great responsibility."

From: RRoy Report

“Comic book collector and industry legend Maggie Thompson of Wisconsin has decided to put some 500 pieces of her personal collection up for auction over the next few months. Nearly 90 issues went on the block Thursday, including the first issue of 'The Avengers,' ''Journey Into Mystery' No. 83, which features the first appearance of Thor, and the first issue of 'The Incredible Hulk.'
     Thompson, 70, has been collecting comic books since she was a girl in the 1940s. She married another comic book collector, Don Thompson, in 1962. Twenty years later they left Ohio, where Don Thompson had worked as a reporter, for Wisconsin to take over editing duties for an industry magazine, Comics Buyer's Guide.
     They spent years working on the magazine. It grew into a paper-and-ink equivalent of a Facebook page, connecting comic fans, distributors, writers and artists across the country.
     Don Thompson died in 1994, and CBG folded in January. But Maggie Thompson is still as sharp as Wolverine's claws. She blogs about industry happenings and can talk for hours about how comics have evolved from something parents abhorred to a part of mainstream culture.
     ‘Everybody knows, “With great power comes great responsibility." They (even) have opinions on Loki!’ she said, referring to Spider-Man's catch-phrase philosophy and Thor's evil adopted brother, who has grown into one of the most popular comics villains after he was featured in the ‘Thor’ and ‘Avengers’ movies.
     She doesn't know exactly how many comic books she has but estimates it's tens of thousands. She used money from selling ‘Amazing Fantasy’ No. 15, the first appearance of Spider-Man, and the first 100 issues of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man,’ to build a vault-like storage addition on her home east of Stevens Point [Wisconsin].”
— Todd Richmond, Huffington Post
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Monday, November 25, 2013

just like a real book

From: The New Yorker

S, the new mystery novel by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, may be the best-looking book I’ve ever seen. From the outside, it looks like an old library book, called Ship of Theseus and published, in 1949, by V. M. Straka (a fictitious author). Open it up, though, and you see that the real story unfolds in Straka’s margins, where two readers, Eric and Jen, have left notes for each other. Between the pages, they’ve slipped postcards, photographs, newspaper clippings, letters—even a hand-drawn map written on a napkin from a coffee shop.
     To solve the book’s central mystery—who is V. M. Straka, really, and what does he have to do with Eric’s sinister dissertation advisor?—you have to read not just Ship of Theseus, but all of Jen and Eric’s handwritten notes. The book is so perfectly realized that it’s easy to fall under its spell. The other morning, I was so engrossed in a letter from Jen that I missed my subway stop. (The letter, handwritten on Pollard State University Library stationery, marked a turning point in Eric and Jen’s flirty, romantic relationship.)
     S is the unusual result of a collaboration between two unusual people. Abrams has written, created, produced, or directed dozens of films and television shows, including 'Felicity,' 'Alias,' 'Lost,' 'Fringe,' 'Person of Interest,' and two 'Mission: Impossible' films; he’s currently directing the new 'Star Wars' movie, which comes out in 2015.
     Meanwhile, Dorst’s previous novel, Alive in Necropolis, was a runner-up for the 2009 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award; he’s also won 'Jeopardy!' three times. If you want to write a romantic mystery meta-novel in which two bibliophiles investigate the conspiracy around an enigmatic Eastern European author, you couldn’t choose a better team.”
— Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker
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“[…] each time a fertile man's heart beats, he makes 1,500 new sperm.”

“It's a strange thing, but one that seems universally true: offer people a good fact, joke or story and they'll press it on the next 10 people they meet. In evolutionary terms, this is rather encouraging. It suggests that we have survived as a species by sharing our precious resources rather than hoarding them like Rolos or old phone chargers. Because although facts don't fill our bellies or pay our bills, they do remind us just how strange and unlikely the world is, and in so doing, operate as an alternative currency, a sort of black market of wonder.
     […]There are the straight-down-the-line 'wow!' statistics (A pint of milk in a supermarket can contain milk from more than 1,000 cows; only 5% of the world's population has ever been on an aeroplane; in the first quarter of 2012, Apple sold more iPhones than there were babies born in the world), some unlikely connections (Mo Farah, Sir Roger Bannister, Sir Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny and Sir Steve Redgrave were all born on 23 March; JRR Tolkien and Adolf Hitler both fought at the battle of the Somme; the first private detective agency was started by a criminal), and some wonderful walk-on parts by humans (Enid Blyton played tennis in the nude) and animals (fruit bats enjoy fellatio)."
— John Mitchinson, The Guardian (Books Blog)
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"the Death Zone"

“In his latest book, David Suzuki points out that 'the loss of an insect group such as ants would result in a catastrophic collapse of terrestrial ecosystems.' By the same token, if the human species were to go extinct overnight, 'biodiversity would rebound around the planet.' It is a sobering thought, and oddly comforting despite it’s terrible implications. It sets the tone for the book, which at once readable and profound.
     The Legacy, an elder’s vision for our sustainable future is based on a lecture that Suzuki gave a year ago, in December 2009, at the University of British Columbia, where he had been a professor for 39 years. That same lecture forms the core of a new film 'Force of Nature,' directed by Sturla Gunnarson.
From: The New Yorker (via Crooks and Liars)
     A slim and unimposing volume, the book carries a powerful message within its covers, written by a man who is, by his own admission, in the last part of his life—what he calls 'the Death Zone.' As such, there is an air of contemplation about the book, tinged with a hint of melancholy. As he says in the introduction he has previously recorded his thoughts and ideas extensively on numerous subjects in essays, articles and books. He has also covered his life story in two books: Metamorphosis: Stages in a Life (written when he was fifty) and David Suzuki: The Autobiography (written when he was 70).”
— John Endo Greenaway, The Bulletin
Read more…

Buy all of David Suzuki's books here...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Homo sovieticus"

“In this penetrating study of Oswald’s pivotal sojourn in the Soviet Union, [Peter] Savodnik outlines the pitiable delusions and hopes Oswald harbored both in America and abroad. Savodnik, a gifted writer, draws on archival documents and interviews with Oswald’s former Soviet friends and love interests to explain the murderous rage that prompted him to assassinate John F. Kennedy.
     According to Savodnik, the perpetual upheaval Oswald experienced as a child — his father died before he was born, and he had moved 20 times by the age of 17 — left a lasting mark. Oswald embarked on a constant search for refuge. Marxism seemed to offer it. In 1959 he arrived in Moscow intent on becoming a new person — a 'Homo sovieticus’ […]”
— Jacob Heilbrun, The New York Times
Read more…

“A slight man who craved attention – and occasionally got it – Lee Harvey Oswald cast a small shadow before that late November day a half-century ago. Then a barrage of three rifle shots brought him a kind of eternal infamy as a man who brought darkness to a nation.
     Family members, co-workers, and friends have given historians insight into the assassin's troubled life. (Yes, some people tolerated Oswald, and a few were even fond of him despite his difficult personality.) But Oswald's brief trip to Russia, where he lived as a defector before returning to the US, isn't fully understood.
     Journalist Peter Savodnik aims to uncover fresh ground in his new book The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union. He digs into Oswald's obsession with Marxism, his revealing diaries, and his never-ending disappointments and humiliations.
     In an interview, Savodnik talked about Oswald's sense of entitlement, his detachment from those around him, and the elusive motives behind his actions on that long-ago Nov. 22.”
— Randy Dotinga, The Christian Science Monitor
Read the interview here…

Renko rides again

“Fans of Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko series may shift uneasily as Smith sets up the plot of Tatiana.
     Renko, senior investigator in Moscow's Militsiya, has learned that the eponymous Tatiana, a journalist regarded as ‘a troublemaker to the end,’ has committed suicide by hurling herself from her sixth-floor apartment. But when her corpse can't be found and her flat is stripped clean, Renko suspects murder.
     Alas, the suicide that points to murder is a shopworn trope in thrillers, often signaling auto-pilot plotting. So the reader may wonder if the Renko series, launched 32 years ago with the justly successful Gorky Park, has grown tired.
     Not at all. Tatiana is as tight, vivid and haunting as any of the other installments in Smith's consistently first-rate series. The suspicious suicide, in fact, serves not as a plot device but as the introduction to Smith's theme: the corrupt, treacherous and crumbling state of Russia today. Tatiana could well have been murdered for doggedly pursuing a story that would expose the Kremlin's cozy relationship with the Russian mafia. (The plot derives from the real-life murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.)”
— Gerald Bartell, SF Gate
Read more…

Buy all of Martin Cruz Smith's books here...

It was fifty years ago today... or so.

“Ever since 1964 when Dalekmania spawned Doctor Who’s first novel, Who in written form has rarely lived up to its potential. Novelisations of the original series were entrusted to the programme’s scriptwriters and were threadbare by design. (Stephen Gallagher, the only bona fide novelist involved, insisted on a pseudonym when his two contributions were pulped down by the editorial juicing machine.)
     Subsequent publishing ventures, though aiming higher, nevertheless tended to fall short of anything much beyond the nostalgic reminiscences of erstwhile child viewers. Granted, there were one or two exceptions – Stephen Marley’s Managra, for instance, and Simon Messingham’s Tomb of Valdemar – but for the most part, sad truth be told, Doctor Who books offered would-be librarians little choice but to shelve them under the traditionally lukewarm classification of ‘Better than nothing, I suppose.’
     Now, at last, the chameleon circuit has been fixed and the TARDIS range has been revamped both inside and out. […]
     [Alastair] Reynolds writes in an uncomplicated manner – plot; characterization; intrigue-cum-discovery – telling his story with directness yet also sufficient finesse to prevent it from becoming brash or insipid.
     Harvest of Time carries the quintessence of [Jon] Pertwee-era Who (early- to mid-1970s England in drab but glorious colour) and in harking back to the television serials of those halcyon days, not only does Reynolds as good as implant newly ensconced memories in the minds of longstanding Doctor Who fans, he also presents a time capsule by which younger viewers may experience (sans the datedness that necessarily comes across on DVD) some of the excitement and seriousness, the flamboyance and gravitas, the earthbound immediacy that characterized Jon Pertwee’s stories at their time of broadcast."
— Jacob Edwards, BuzzyMag
Read more…

Dalek vs. fans — Northhampton, 1963 (from: Pinterest)
“Time is relative for Time Lords, but when it comes to launching the longest running sci-fi show in television history, timing is everything. On Nov. 23, 1963, the time was ripe for BBC's sci-fi series 'Doctor Who,' and a new TV movie that serves as a documentary in the form of drama explains why.
     'An Adventure in Space and Time' tackles the story behind the 'The Doctor,' a mysterious dual-hearted alien from the planet Gallifrey, who regenerates into a different body every few years.
     David Bradley, best known as Walder Frey from 'Game of Thrones' and Filch from the 'Harry Potter' movies, portrays the show's first 'Doctor,' the late William Hartnell. In a series of flash backs, Hartnell recalls his experience portraying 'The Doctor,' a guy who travels through time and space in what appears to be a British police box.”
— Ree Hines, MSN News
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Friday, November 22, 2013

storage and retrieval

From: Who Is Your Lawyer?

“On this day in 1956 [November 19], while visiting the Ritz Hotel in Paris, Ernest Hemingway was alerted by the staff that he’d had two trunks stored there since the 1920s, and if he didn’t claim them, they’d be tossed in the trash. Hemingway was surprised when he claimed the luggage and found lost manuscripts and notes, some of which would eventually make up A Moveable Feast, one of the most famous literary memoirs ever.
     Remembering the unlikely rescue of Hemingway’s work gives us a moment to pause and think about all the work by all the greats that didn’t actually make it. Whether tossed into the fire, stolen, or just plain lost in a box somewhere, here are a few storied pieces of writing that we’ll probably never get to read.”
— Jason Diamond, Flavorwire

“As the literary-minded will no doubt recall, on the cusp of Hemingway’s early fame virtually all of his finished but as yet unpublished work was lost in a bizarre twist of fate. The incident, which occurred in late December, 1922, is noted by Hemingway in A Moveable Feast and receives half a paragraph in Carlos Baker’s biography of Hemingway.
     As Baker reports, Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, before catching a train from Paris to Switzerland to meet her husband, had packed all his manuscripts (except for Up in Michigan and My Old Man) 'in a separate small valise so that he (Hemingway) could get on with his writing during the Christmas season.' However, at the Gare de Lyon someone purloined the bag holding Hemingway’s pages — which contained poems and short stories and the beginning of a novel never again seen.”
— Robert Scott Lawrence, Who Is Your Lawyer?
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“[…] the fine lubricated violence of an internal combustion engine.”

“Rachel Kushner’s second novel, The Flamethrowers, unfolds on a bigger, brighter screen than nearly any recent American novel I can remember. It plays out as if on Imax, or simply higher-grade film stock.
     In part this is a function of the novel’s unfamiliar settings, including the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where the book’s young narrator briefly becomes, as one character puts it, 'the fastest chick in the world.' The book also touches down in politically turbulent Italy in the 1970s.
     In part it’s the simple fact that Ms. Kushner can really write. Her prose has a poise and wariness and moral graininess that puts you in mind of weary-souled visionaries like Robert Stone and Joan Didion.
     This wariness lurks beneath a sensibility that’s on constant alert for crazy, sensual, often ravaged beauty. This is a novel in which a fish’s head on a plate resembles ‘a shorn airplane fuselage.’ An auburn beard tumbles down a man’s chin ‘like hillside erosion.’”
— Dwight Garner, The New York Times
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no jacket

Mark Twain sans shirt
(from: The Daily Beast)
“When Amanda Leduc and Allegra Young first joked on Twitter about a calendar full of naked authors, they didn’t think that they’d soon be tastefully positioning Angie Abdou‘s skis during a nude photo shoot. That’s how the idea behind Bare if For Books came about. Nearly $6000 was raised through an Indiegogo campaign (featuring a video starring Gordon Pinsent) and the calendar now available for sale with all proceeds going to Pen Canada.
     The 2014 calendar features twelve Canadian authors in all their barely-or-not-at-all clad glory.”
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

phrases of the moon — sound it out...

“[...] What happens next is interesting because it shows us something about the conjunction of pause and pitch-lowering that allows us to hear that an item is being placed in parentheses by a speaker. On each side of the word 'phrase' the poet leaves a pause of about half a second, and, while keeping her volume levels consistent (peaking in the 75 to 85 dB range), she sharply decreases her tone (creating that 'U' shape in the pitch transcript, see above). Having established this pattern with her voicing of 'phrase,' she reproduces it for 'moon,' placing a .325 second pause before and a .465 second pause after it, and dropping her pitch by about 100Hz while voicing the vowel. [click on the graphs for MOON and PHRASE]
     By contrast, when she voices the very similar vowel in the first syllable of 'movement' less than two seconds later, she holds her pitch in the 160-170 level (her norm), rising toward 220Hz on the unstressed final syllable to realize the interrogative pitch pattern operative in English.”
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From: Found Shit

Creative Non-Fiction

“On April 25, 1983, Stern magazine—the German answer to Life—held a press conference to make a sensational announcement: their star reporter had discovered a trove of Hitler’s personal diaries, lost since a plane crash in 1945. Now Stern would begin publishing what he’d found.
     The magazine claimed that the diaries—of which, remarkably, there had been no previous record—would require a major rewriting of Hitler’s biography and the history of the Third Reich. The handwritten volumes included everything from descriptions of flatulence and halitosis ('Eva says I have bad breath'), to an account of Braun’s hysterical pregnancy in 1940, and the revelation that a surprisingly sensitive Hitler didn’t know what was happening to the Jews.
     Two weeks later, the diaries were exposed as fakes—and not particularly good ones, written at great speed by Konrad Kujau, a small-time crook and prolific forger.
     Thirty years later, the Hitler Diaries hoax is still the biggest scandal to have hit German journalism after 1945. Recently, Die Zeit published a 'diary of the diaries,' written shortly after the debacle, by Felix Schmidt, one of Stern’s three editors-in-chief at the time (and the only one of the three still living).”
— Sally McGrane, The New Yorker
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“While 60 Minutes is conducting some kind of 'journalistic review' of its discredited story about the Benghazi attack, publishers of a related book that has been removed from stores have been largely mum about how they published an apparent fabrication.
     Threshold Books published The Embassy House by 'Sgt. Morgan Jones' and then retracted the book after it became clear that the author — a British former security contractor whose real name is Dylan Davies — had apparently lied about being at the scene of the September 2012 assault.
     Some critics have questioned how Threshold could have published such a story in the first place without verifying it. But according to publishing veterans, there are few safeguards to prevent such a failure in an industry that provides only minimal review and fact-checking. Without in-house fact-checkers at most publishing houses, authors themselves typically bear the sole responsibility for the accuracy of their work.
     'As a general course of business, publishers do not conduct a thorough fact-check on most of their books,' said Sloan Harris, a literary agent at ICM Talent who represents New Yorker veterans Jane Mayer and Ken Auletta. 'A number of our prominent authors will, in fact, employ an outside fact-checker at their own expense.'
     But such fact-checking arrangements are far from mandatory or routine.”
— Joe Strupp, Media Matters
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

words on wheels

"L.A.'s Public Library's 1928 bookmobile for the sick"— Black and WTF

“[…] people want their suffering to mean something.”

“There was a time, a little more than a decade ago when I lost a thread that I had been following up until that point, and I was left with nothing. So I sat in a house by the ocean in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts and read all the novels that Robert Stone had then written—Hall of Mirrors, Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, Children of Light, and Damascus Gate. They were bedtime stories I could trust—the kind that ended badly. […]

David Samuels:
There’s an encounter that Americans have again and again with other people in other places, where they come in with a burst of belief in some grand project. Meanwhile, the natives are sitting there and looking at them like this and wondering, ‘what kind of con is this? Are these people out of their minds? Or maybe they’re supermen.' And then there’s a moment where the Americans are standing there, in whatever strange place they are planning to make over in their own image, and everything starts to vibrate and then they realize that something in the edifice they’ve built in their mind’s eye isn’t solid, and then you hear the crack. And then something awful happens. Eventually, the people living there have to go and sweep up the mess and get on with their lives, which is just another one of the messes that foreigners have made in their yard.
Robert Stone:
Which is their history.
David Samuels:
Is our history based on some kind of belief or ignorance that condemns us to repeat that cycle again and again, in new places?
Robert Stone: I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that question. It often seems that way.”
— David Samuels (in conversation with Robert Stone), The Daily Beast
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subject to interpretation

From the Codex Seraphinianus (via yeeeeeee)

“What is literary style and why is it bound to change as the novel rapidly goes global?
     'Style is the transformation the writer imposes on reality,' Proust tells us. We know what he means, perhaps, but the claim hardly helps us describe how a style is created or how it achieves its effects. In fact I can think of no adequate definition of style, if only because it is always diffuse throughout a text. It cannot be pinned down or wrapped up. All the same, we know at once when style is present, especially when it is extreme. […]
     Style, then, involves a meeting between arrangements inside the prose and expectations outside it. You can’t have a strong style without a community of readers able to recognize and appreciate its departures from the common usages they know. Much of what is surprising in Green’s text is inevitably lost in translation, in a language, for example, with different rules of deixis; some is lost simply by shifting the book across the Atlantic.
     What I’m getting at is that style is predicated on a strict relation to a specific readership and the more that readership is diluted or extended, particularly if it includes foreign-language readers, the more difficult it is for a text of any stylistic density to be successful. In the past, a work of literature would establish a reputation in its culture of origin, first among critics who were presumably equipped to appreciate it, then among the larger public; only later, sometimes many years later, would it perhaps be translated by those cosmopolitan literati who wished to make it known in another country.”
— Tim Parks, NYR blog
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rich brew

"After JK Rowling's wizards and Stephenie Meyer's vampires, publishers and producers have now been spellbound by a first novel about witches written by a former accountant. Sally Green, 52, had no desire to write until three years ago. Yet her supernatural thriller about witches living secretly among us in contemporary Britain has been snapped up by publishers in 36 countries, from Canada to Ukraine, who see her as a potential big hit, with stories that will appeal to teenagers and adults alike.
     Advances for a trilogy of novels are expected to earn the author about £1m. The film rights have been bought by Fox 2000 and Karen Rosenfelt, who produced The Twilight Saga, inspired by [Stephenie] Meyer's vampires.
     In the story, black and white witches are divided by hatred but united by a fear of a boy called Nathan, who is descended from both sides – "wanted by no one; hunted by everyone.'"
— Dalya Alberge, The Guardian

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

reading entrails

"Crime stories are one of the oldest literary genres, dating back at least as far as Cain and Abel. But the genre that concerns me here is the crime story’s modern descendant, in which a felony is committed in mysterious circumstances and then an individual follows clues and makes deductions to discover what happened.
     This is a relative innovation: the first modern detective novel is usually attributed either to William Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794), or to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841). There is no doubt, however, that the 1860s saw the arrival of detective fiction as a whole. This was the decade that saw the publication of Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868), ‘the first, the longest and the best modern English detective novel’, in the opinion of T S Eliot.
     Why should detective fiction have emerged at this time? There are some conspicuous material factors. Industrialisation and the growth of literacy meant that more people than ever before were able to read. To satisfy this new market, new machinery was developed that could produce cheap books in vast numbers. Booksellers in Britain set up stalls in stations. Their best-sellers were sensationalist, the kind of stories sneered at by literary types: 'the tawdry novels which flare in the bookshelves of our railway stations,’ the poet and critic Matthew Arnold complained in 1880, ‘and which seem designed, as so much else that is produced for the use of our middle class, for people with a low standard of life’. Unabashed, ordinary readers were hungry for this kind of stuff; when the first detective novels came along, they lapped them up.
     […] But why did detective stories become such huge best-sellers almost overnight? What accounted for the sudden fascination with the figure of the detective? The unlucky Francis Kent’s father happened to be a government factory inspector, another profession that emerged at around this time, and yet factory inspectors didn’t suddenly become heroes of the popular imagination.
     The solution can be found if we ask ourselves what a detective actually does. If nothing else, he (and, later, she) is a problem-solver; someone who can restore order where there is chaos. Faced with the worst crime (what could be more existentially troubling than a murder?), the detective gives us answers to the most pressing and urgent questions: not only whodunit, but how and why and what it means. He does all this by taking us on a journey, discovering pieces of evidence, seeking out hints and clues. In the best examples of this game, we see everything that the detective sees, yet we are unable to solve the crime ourselves. Only the detective, in a final display of mastery, can reach the correct conclusion. We need him, with his special knowledge and abilities, to make sense of it all.
     In other words, a detective is a kind of priest. […]"
— Jason Webster, Aeon
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"[…] a farm league for larger publishers […]"

"TeleRead: From what I’ve seen from browsing your site, Publerati doesn’t work quite like most people expect from a publisher or literary agent. Give us a quick overview of what you do and how?

Caleb [Mason]: Publerati is a hybrid ebook fiction publisher and literary agency. In many ways we are playing both sides of the street: looking to move forward into the new digital streams for books that are completely separate from the traditional publishing industry and its current business models, but also looking to sell rights to the traditional industry when and if we feel it is in the best interests of our authors, and the authors in fact want to go in that direction. Some do not, but instead want to go forward as their past publishing experiences have not been good. No one emails them back. Their books are published and declared out of print before having a reasonable chance. Editors come and go so fast the authors get lost within the mega-publishers.

TeleRead: What types of books do you publish and why?

Caleb: We only publish fiction and do so in all popular ebook formats. We actively look for novels that are unique and unlike the many genres already well represented by large publishers. In essence, we are taking the risk on titles we feel have artistic merits with the potential to also become commercially successful. Some people in the publishing industry say it is like a farm league for larger publishers, which could be the case for some titles, and this is why I wanted Publerati to be a hybrid agency and ebook publisher, at least at our start while we see how things play out."
— Julie Monroe, in conversation with Caleb Mason, Teleread

"Do something to it."

"Jasper Johns, in explaining how to make a work of art, kept things simple. 'Take an object,' he said. 'Do something to it. Do something else to it.' The first time I heard that quotation, it struck me as an oversimplification. But I’ve changed my mind. At bottom, the creative process really is that simple.
     My experience of writing Find the Bad Guy is a perfect example. I didn’t start out with Charlie D. being a Texan. The first drafts of the story were told in a different voice entirely. The narrator wasn’t even called Charlie D. One day, dissatisfied with the pages I’d written, I decided to do something to them. So I re-wrote the story in a Texas twang. Some days later, I did something else: I made Charlie a Michigander putting on this Texan voice. The story is about truth and deceit, so the more convoluted Charlie’s voice became, the better. It seemed funny to me that Charlie was actually from the upper Midwest and had picked up his accent as an adult. It also showed how estranged he was from himself, and hinted at the repercussions of this estrangement, which aren’t in the least bit funny but as serious as can be. After I had the voice, I kept doing things to the narrative. I gave Charlie a job in radio. I gave him a German wife, and made her very tall. I kept doing things to my paper object until it became a story. Dozens of small little decisions, one at a time."
— Jeffrey Eugenides, via Cressida Leyshon, The New Yorker

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Doris Lessing (October 22, 1919 – November 17, 2013)

Doris Lessing, April 1956 (from: Books and Life)

"Doris Lessing, the Nobel prize-winning author of The Golden Notebook and The Grass is Singing, among more than 50 other novels ranging from political to science fiction, has died at her London home aged 94.
     The biographer Michael Holroyd, her friend and executor, called her contribution to literature 'outstandingly rich and innovative.'
     He said: 'Her themes have been universal and international. They ranged from the problems of post-colonial Africa to the politics of nuclear power, the emergence of a new woman's voice and the spiritual dimensions of 20th-century civilisation. Few writers have as broad a range of subject and sympathy.
     'She is one of those rare writers whose work crosses frontiers, and her impressively large output constitutes a chronicle of our time. She has enlarged the territory both of the novel and of our consciousness.'
     Nick Pearson, her editor at HarperCollins/4th Estate, said : 'I adored her.'
     He added: 'When I took over looking after her books she had a fairly formidable reputation, and the first time I went to meet her I was terrified, but she was always completely charming to me. She was always more interested in talking about the other writers on our list, what the young writers were working on – and reading – than in talking about her own books.'"
— Maev Kennedy, The Guardian
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Friday, November 15, 2013

conflicting reports

"All this artful dodging about the murder of President Kennedy began, of course, nearly 50 years ago with the Warren Commission, the blue-ribbon panel that was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson — not to get at the truth, but to 'lay the dust' (in the words of one commissioner) on all the disturbing rumors that were swirling around the bloody events in Dallas. Two new books take us inside the Warren Commission sausage factory, and show in often shocking detail how the august panel got it so terribly wrong. Soon after the Warren Report was released in September 1964, polls began showing that the American people rejected its conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin of the president – and nearly a half century later, the report remains a notorious symbol of official coverup. [...]
     A Cruel and Shocking Act by former New York Times investigative reporter Philip Shenon has been soaking up most of the media spotlight in recent days. The book proclaims itself to be a 'secret history of the Kennedy assassination.' Based largely on interviews with Warren Commission staff lawyers, the book reveals how the investigation was immediately taken over by the very government agencies — the CIA, FBI and Secret Service — that had the most to hide when it came to the assassination.
     The other new book, History Will Prove Us Right, was written by Howard Willens, a Warren Commission lawyer who refused to speak with Shenon. As suggested by the title — which is taken from a defiant statement by the commission chairman, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren – Willens’ book is a stubborn defense of the report that he helped produce. But ironically, after grinding one’s way through Willens’ serviceably written but highly revealing story, a reader can only come to the same conclusion that Shenon’s 'sexier expose’ demands – namely, that the Warren Report was the result of massive political cunning and investigative fraud."
— David Talbot, Salon
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big books, big bucks

From: Collectors Weekly

"Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch has 771 pages. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize, is 834 pages long. And then there is City on Fire, the 900-page debut novel that took the publishing industry by storm last week.
     It was even more evidence that the long novel is experiencing a resurgence, as a dozen publishers competed for the rights to release the book, set in New York City in the 1970s. City on Fire was written by Garth Risk Hallberg, a 34-year-old who has contributed to The New York Times Book Review and The Millions. Publishers who had a copy of the manuscript — and said they could concentrate on little else until they had finished reading it — rapturously compared it to work by Michael Chabon and Thomas Pynchon.
     The book drew an advance that is highly unusual for a debut novel. In a two-day bidding war, 10 publishers bid more than $1 million. Knopf emerged the victor, paying close to $2 million, said two people familiar with the negotiations.
     Before the acquisition, Diana Miller, an editor at Knopf, wrote Chris Parris-Lamb, Mr. Hallberg’s agent, an email praising the book, saying it was 'off the charts in its ambition, its powers of observation, its ability to be at once intellectual and emotionally generous.'”
— Julie Bosman, The New York Times
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