Department of Ridiculous News Story Premises: “After a summer of glowing reviews for Jonathan Franzen‘s new novel “Freedom,” in which the book was deemed a masterpiece and its author compared to great American novelists, publishing insiders say the literary lovefest may be about to end. According to those sources, Ruth Franklin, a senior editor at the New Republic, will pan “Freedom” in an issue out later this month. Judging by literary critics’ penchant for piling on, she probably won’t be the last reviewer looking to draw blood.”
Where are the novels about Hurricane Katrina?
Julia Alvarez: “I struggled early on because my first language was Spanish and when I came here I read all these great male writers whose voices sounded important, so I tried to model my own voice after them.”
According to a Bowker survey (PDF), there are many reasons why a person might purchase a book, but a book review isn’t one of them (see page 29). So, little has changed.
Jack Shafer despairs for the future of the book—though the book’s eroding cultural primacy, as he describes it, seems to apply mostly to nonfiction books, which have increasingly become lodes for data miners. As for novels, you still have to read those from start to finish.
Mystery novelist Bryan Gruley on the distinctions between writing news stories and writing fiction.
James Ellroy: “Well, sir, and this is on the record, I’ve blurbed a lot of books I haven’t read. Blurbed a lot of books I haven’t read, and have decided to drop the curtain on that.”
Inside Jennifer Egan‘s old-school day planner.
Things I’ve Overheard My Roommate Say to Her On-Again/Off-Again Boyfriend or Works by Joyce Carol Oates? (via; this gag also works for Bob Dylan and Dan Rather quotes)
Nancy Schnog, writing in the Washington Post, figures that books like Julia Alvarez‘s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents threaten to alienate teens from reading, and that high-school reading lists need a rethink. Commentaries on books have been done to death, she writes, and “Asking our students for yet another written commentary has a certain absurd ring to it, no?” Well, I didn’t think the goal of asking high-schoolers to write about a book was to extract shiny new insights about The Great Gatsby—just to test their comprehension and analytical skills. I also don’t see how it helps to further coddle an everybody-gets-a-trophy generation by wringing one’s hands over a 14-year-old boy who doesn’t like the book about Latinas because he himself isn’t Latina. But Schnog’s the teacher….
John McCain got through his ordeal in a POW camp by lecturing on the history of American literature. His cellmate Orson Swindle says McCain’s command of the facts wasn’t especially solid, though. “We only had the facts half right, but John said nobody knew the difference,” Swindle tells the Associated Press.
The Guardian‘s review of Philip Hoare‘s Leviathan makes the critical study of all things whale-related sound fantastic. (Naturally, there’s plenty of ruminating on Moby-Dick.) Alas, it’s not yet available in the United States.
The London Times interviews Paul Auster about Man in the Dark, a book I’m clanging on about more than usual because it’s one of my favorite novels of the year. Spoiler alert: the piece discloses a late-breaking plot point in the novel.
And again in the Post, crime novelist and blogger Sara Paretsky ponders the kind of bare-knuckle Chicago politics that she and Barack Obama grew to know:
[M]y real political baptism came in 1971, on a cold November election day. The city’s elections were notoriously corrupt, and I agreed to be a poll watcher in my South Side precinct. I watched the Democratic precinct captain repeatedly enter the booth with voters while the two election judges (one Republican, one Democrat) and a cop stood idly by. When I protested to the judges, the cop frog-marched me to the alley behind the polling place, slammed me against the wall and said, “Girlie, we’ve been running elections here since before you were born. You go home.”
The Washington Post‘s Sunday Magazine is its Valentine’s fiction issue, featuring stories by Stuart Dybek, Julia Alvarez, Walter Kirn, and Julie Orringer. Missing Chicago a little lately, I went straight to Dybek’s “Road to Cordoba,” a small North Side love story set in a very large Chicago blizzard; it’s a beautifully turned piece, with a quick detour into a bar that neatly evokes every red-brick-facade-Old-Style-sign-in-front-joint in the city:
The cramped, low-lit space was packed, or so it first appeared. Though only three men sat at the bar, they were so massive they seemed to fill the room. Their conversation stopped when I came in. I’d heard the rumor that players for the Chicago Bears sometimes drank there, but hadn’t believed it, probably because I’d heard it from Lise’s stepfather, Ray, who’d also told me that as a cliff-diver in Acapulco he’d once landed on a tiger shark with an impact that killed the shark. With all of Rush Street waiting to toast them, why would Bears drink at a dump like the Buena Chimes?
Dybek will discuss the story on the Post‘s Web site Monday.