Archive for LIT WORLD

Notes From the Underground Press

Today’s Los Angeles Times pays tribute to Walter Bowart, the co-founder of the independent newspaper The East Village Other, who passed away at 68. The Village Voice salutes Nat Hentoff in “50 Years of Pissing People Off.” And the Guardian unmasks celebrated writers who have used anonymity to their advantage (and considers how Eric Blair, pictured here, became George Orwell).

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Literature and the Lateral Move

A string of recent articles displays a bit of shape-shifting in the literary world. Author Tom Wolfe has swapped publishers, leaving Farrar, Straus & Giroux — his home for 42 years — to set up shop at Little, Brown & Co. The Guardian writes about a “tug-of-love” over the legacy of Simone De Beauvoir, “the mother of modern feminism and a champion of sexual freedom.” As France begins “a glittering celebration” of the centenary of her birth next week, “some academics have warned against the rush of debate and publications descending into prudish attacks on her deliberately outrageous sex life,” as opposed to her life in letters. The question remains: Which way will she go? Also in the Guardian, columnist John Freeman comments on the “surreal experience” novelists undergo while watching their work be adapted for Hollywood (and charts a few bizarre author cameos — none very Hitchcockian). And the New York Times ponders how Jorge Luis Borges, who “set his stories in a pretechnological past and was easily enthralled by the authority of ancient texts” might just be the “Man Who Discovered the Internet.”

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Words To the Wise

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has selected their word of the year. The winner: w00t, a word popular with online gamers “expressing joy, possibly after a triumph or for no reason at all.” The list of runner-ups is available here. (I guess Islamofascism will have to wait until next year.) Also from the downside of techno-jargon, AP reports that, alarmingly, “Nearly 95 percent of e-mail is junk.” For the best lexicography has to offer, William Safire (pictured here) recently singled out some favorite entries in 2007’s new fleet of dictionaries and compiled them in his venerable “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine. After dipping into the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Safire writes: “It was good to see the verb smoosh finally made it.”

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The Best in Books: 2007

As December reaches the midway point, recommended reading lists are continuing to mount up, right alongside the stacks of unread books on the bedside table. In all, it was a strong year for the printed word, as reflected in the choices by the editors of the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Village Voice and Financial Times (with separate posts for fiction and nonfiction). For more recommendations, check the winners of this year’s National Book Award, including Tim Weiner (pictured here), the author of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. Weiner is interviewed in the current issue of STOP SMILING (20 Interviews), along with authors A.M. Homes, Ed McClanahan, Miranda July and Jimmy Breslin.

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What’s In a Book?


Apparently more than once thought. Despite the Oprah Book Club and Harry Potter mania, young Americans “appear to be reading less for fun, and as that happens, their reading test scores are declining,” the New York Times reported this week. “At the same time, performance in other academic disciplines like math and science is dipping for students whose access to books is limited.” All of this staggering data is part of a new report released this week by the National Endowment for the Arts. The study points to the “proliferation of digital diversions on the internet and other gadgets,” as well as the failure of schools and colleges to develop a culture of daily reading habits. Strangely enough, this was also the week that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the company’s new digital reading tool called Kindle, which condenses books onto a small, hand-held device that Bezos hopes will revolutionize the way print media is absorbed. And, as if bookstore patrons weren’t distracted enough, Borders Books announced this week that they’re installing 37-inch flat screen TVs to show original programming, ads, news and weather in all of their retail stores. At the same time, authors and publishers are “tipping their hats to the power of eight to 12 women sitting around a dinner room table, dissecting their particular book of the month, then spreading the word to their friends,” in makeshift book clubs across the country.

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A Power Lunch, with Room for More

Though the “Lunch with FT” interview column in the Financial Times can be a bit of a humdrum affair at times, with interviewees focusing less on the subject’s comments and more on their use of a chilled salad fork or psychoanalyzing their salt application, there’s a been a surge of interesting conversations lately that have broken past the mealtime pleasantries. Most recently, Martin Amis (pictured here) pulled up a chair and pondered a “very pig-oriented” menu before transitioning into Nabokov and the Taliban (read the Amis interview). Recent lunch guests have also included Naomi Klein, Helen Mirren and former UN ambassador John Bolton, who clings to neocon ideals even while noshing on Freedom fries (with Donald Rumsfeld seated at the next table).

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We’ll Always Have The Paris Review

The current issue of the New York Observer features a lengthy media piece about Philip Gourevitch, editor of The Paris Review, who’s set, in the words of the Observer, “to make George Plimpton‘s magazine remarkable again in an era that no longer produces George Plimptons.” The article, titled “The Bicycle Thief,” details Gourevitch’s losses and gains since taking charge over two years ago. In the spring of 2005, STOP SMILING spoke to Gourevitch about his strategy going into his first issue as editor (the review released their eight issue last week). An excerpt of that interview, which appeared in our Downfall of American Publishing issue, is available on this site.

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Existential Book Buying


NY Times art critic Michael Kimmelman, in an article in today’s Arts section, breaks down the “cultural divide” of the book industry in Europe and America. Over the last two decades, big-chain bookstores in the US and the UK have put most mom-and-pop shops out of business nationwide. In Germany, however, there are big and small bookstores on every block in cities and rural towns. Germany’s book culture is sustained, he writes, by an age-old practice requiring by law that all booksellers sell books at fixed prices, save for old, used or damaged books. This allows small German publishers to cater to neighborhoods and communities that the big publishers may ignore. This has been a “source of special pride until Switzerland jumped ship this spring,” overturning the fixed-price law, allowing discounted books to be sold across the border. Germany’s biggest fear, of course, is that small- and medium-sized bookshops will be abolished, which brings the debate back to quality over quantity. Elisabeth Ruge, who runs German publisher Berlin Verlag, told Kimmelman: “Three-quarters of our list will never make money, but it’s important to publish those books because we believe in them and because they create an atmosphere of quality. People trust us when we say a book is good.”

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An Influx of Interviews

As September draws to a close, the Internet is flush with interesting interviews: author Naomi Klein, pictured here, takes on “disaster capitalism” with the BBC; David Remnick of The New Yorker sizes up Garry Kasparov; Stephen Colbert drops the deadpan for Vanity Fair; reporter Seymour Hersh on Bush, Iran and the challenges of journalism in the LA Weekly; author Neil Gaiman tells the Guardian, “I’m an otter”; and Bill Murray assures the Chicago Tribune that this is the Cubs’ year.

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Earth Will Survive. But Will Vaclav?

Writing on the Op-Ed page of today’s New York Times, Vaclav Havel — the playwright and former president of the Czech Republic — addresses humanity’s foot-dragging over global climate change, and the earth’s ultimate endurance. (Click here to read “Our Moral Footprint”.) “Maybe we should start considering our sojourn on earth as a loan,” Havel writes. “There can be no doubt that for the past hundred years at least, Europe and the United States have been running up a debt, and now other parts of the world are following their example. Nature is issuing warnings that we must not only stop the debt from growing but start to pay it back.” (For a Vaclav primer, click here.)

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