You may have noticed: instead of posting about books, I’ve been redesigning The Millions. I would love to hear any comments or suggestions. Also, check out the new feature: New York Times book headlines, just below the Ask a Book Question area.
I can't believe it's been three years, but it's true. I started The Millions three years ago today (though it didn't become a Blog About Books until a little later.) Want to see what it looked like? Ugly! In the intervening years I've tried to make the blog a little nicer to look at and a little easier to read. I'm still having fun though, and I wouldn't have kept it up for this long (I've never kept anything up this long!), if it weren't for you guys. So thank you. Thank you to my contributors who keep this place from being too monotonous. Thank you to all those folks in the publishing industry who work hard to get good books out there to the people and who are kind enough to occasionally send me books they think I might like. Thank you to writers and aspiring writers for creating things for us to read (and for visiting The Millions sometimes). Thanks to my fellow book bloggers - if it weren't for you guys, this would be a pretty dull hobby. Thanks most of all to the readers of this blog and the readers of books. I've greatly enjoyed our ongoing, virtual conversation.All those thank yous. One of the nice things about having a blog is that you can publicly pretend you've just won an Oscar any time you feel like it.Finally, I just want to harken back to my so-called manifesto from way back when, when I laid out why I think it's important for us to discuss what we read. It's still my goal for the blog today: "Given that you and I will only be able to read a finite number of books in our lifetimes, then we should try, as much as possible, to devote ourselves to reading only the ones that are worth reading, while bearing in mind that for every vapid, uninspiring book we read, we are bumping from our lifetime reading list a book that might give us a profound sort of joy."Keep reading good books!
The Millions just got a little bit bigger. Longtime readers will recall the occasional post from Edan Lepucki over the years. She worked with me at the bookstore in L.A., so we've been talking about books since way back. I've always enjoyed her thoughts on books and I think the unique sensibility she brings to teaching, writing and reading will make the site even better. Here's her bio (and her first official post will be up shortly.)Edan Lepucki is a fiction writer and instructor living in Los Angeles. She has an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, and her stories have been published in Meridian, the Los Angeles Times' West Magazine, and CutBank. She likes cheese, dogs, and sleeping in.
It's my pleasure to introduce to you a new contributor to The Millions. Emre is an old friend of mine and I've always enjoyed our literary discussions. Emre read a lot of books last year, and he put together a diary of his reading experience. My plan is to post a segment of it each week. I've decided to share the whole diary with you because I think it represents one way that we, as readers, can get more out of the time we devote to our obsession with the written word. The post above this one will be the first in the series, but before we get to that, here's a little more about Emre:Emre Peker currently slaves away as a paralegal in New York. Emre likes the city, food, drinks, books, music and good people. After winning the lottery, Emre will purchase a private island, derive a way to declare independence, and establish his own kingdom. Until then, Emre hopes to keep sane by reading and writing.One more thing, Emre grew up in Turkey, but has lived in the US for the last six years or so. This explains why some of the books he read last year were in Turkish.
The Millions recently published guest contributor Ed Simon's list of nominations for America's national epic. Ed had included Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited; editor Lydia Kiesling ruthlessly cut the entry, feeling that it was too cute to cross genres. Now that the Nobel Prize Committee has upheld Ed's judgment, we run his argument in its entirety below, with our apologies for denying his prescience. As the Laureate says, "We're idiots, babe." Highway 61 Revisited (1965) by Bob Dylan – There is a temptation to claim that when it comes to Dylan, the greatest epic isn’t any individual album, but rather the entirety of his collected output, or maybe even better, the substance of his very life. After all, his story is almost absurdly archetypical American, a tale of rugged individualism and self-invention in which our young hero went east rather than west. His is a story about young Robert Zimmerman, suburban Jewish kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, hitch-hiking to Morris Plains, New Jersey, where he received a folk benediction from the hillbilly Okie troubadour Woody Guthrie dying from Huntington’s disease in a state hospital. As a result, he acquired the bardic name Dylan and moved to Greenwich Village where he would reinvent American music. Performing for half a century and with 37 albums, Dylan reconciles American contradictions more than any other performer before or after. He has been the firebrand revolutionary singing for civil rights and the reactionary Christian fundamentalist revivalist; he played folk modeled on the oldest songs in the English language and he went electric; though as he put it with characteristic impishness at a 1965 press conference, he primarily thinks of himself “as more of a song and dance man.” While the argument could be made for several different albums as Dylan’s American epic, it is Highway 61 Revisited which most fully embodies the grandeur and the shame of what the word “America” means – it is prophetic in its evocations. He riffs on Genesis when he sings “God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son,’/Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on,’” but as in the original God is serious, so is Dylan’s, continuing with, “Well Abe says, ‘Where do you want this killin’ done?’/God says, ‘Out on Highway 61.’” The songwriter’s genius for what critic Greil Marcus has called “the old, weird America” understands that collapsing biblical history into American is a fundamental strategy for expressing the strangeness of this country. Why shouldn’t Mt. Moriah be on America’s most iconic highway? In his lyrics, which skirt just this side of surrealism, there is a panoply of strange characters, including Cinderella, Bette Davis, Albert Einstein, Cain and Abel, Eliot and Pound, Ophelia and Robin Hood (just to present a smattering). Dylan’s lyrical logic is myth logic, but all the better to be recounted in the language of dreams. The road is the medium of the hero’s journey, and Highway 61 isn’t the only one on the album; there's also “Desolation Row,” where “They’re selling postcards of the hanging,” calling forth nothing so much as America’s brutal racial legacies. And of course there is the opus “Like a Rolling Stone.” The electric masterpiece whose performance Pete Seeger tried to prevent at Newport by attempting to cut the electrical cables with an axe, the track which inspired a concert-goer at the Manchester Free Trade Hall to scream out at Dylan, “Judas!” – the rock song which birthed rock music. A six-minute long evocation of wounded friendship, rage, and rebellion. How does it feel, indeed?
Please see our updated itineraryOne of the supreme pleasures of reading is the way adventures begun on the page - or on the screen - take on a life of their own. Since posting our revised and expanded "Walking Tour of New York's Independent Bookstores" last week, we've been overwhelmed by great feedback. Now, the siren call of an afternoon of leisurely urban hiking having proven too enticing to resist, we've decided to make our hypothetical tour a reality. This May, we're going to convene the First Annual Millions Walking Tour of New York's Independent Book Stores. Notwithstanding the tough environment facing indies, we'll get a chance to celebrate some of New York's best, to explore what keeps them vital - and to hang out with fellow readers.The details:Time and date: Saturday, May 2nd, 11am (rain date Sunday May 3rd, 11am).Itinerary:While our online tour features 11 stops, for our first attempt in person, we've decided to shorten it to a more manageable six stops (and an approximate total distance of 4.5 miles).At 11am, we'll meet at Three Lives (154 West 10th Street at Waverly Place)From there we'll venture to Housing Works Used Book Cafe (126 Crosby St. between Prince and Houston), where we'll try to snag some sort of coffee and snack special for those who like to nosh while they browse.Then it's around the corner to McNally Jackson (52 Prince St. between Mulberry and Lafayette).Then a few blocks to Bluestockings (172 Allen Street between Stanton and Rivington)The next leg, taking us over the bridge to Brooklyn and to BookCourt (163 Court St. between Pacific and Dean) will be by far the longest (about 3 miles).And we'll wrap things up at Freebird Books & Goods (123 Columbia St. between Kane & Degraw), which will host a little backyard party with beer and refreshments.With about a half hour at each stop, we anticipate that the whole tour will take three or four hours. We hope that you will join us. Anyone can just show up and come along, but if you RSVP to [email protected], we'll be able to alert you if we need to postpone due to weather. The whole thing is going to be informal - no tour bus, no red umbrella - and if you want to try to catch up with us partway through, you are welcome to, but the only way to be sure to be with the group is to show up at Three Lives at 11am.Garth and Max will be leading the jaunt and we'll likely be joined by one or two other Millions regulars. Please join us! If all goes well, perhaps we'll reassemble in 2010 for another tour, focusing on the uptown venues we'll be neglecting this time around.
Tomorrow, March 11, at 7 p.m., readers who find themselves in or near Brooklyn are invited to come here two of our "Year in Reading" participants, Lydia Millet and Martha Southgate, read at the Pacific Standard Fiction Series. The series (which I host) was just named "Best New Literary Event" of 2008 by New York Magazine, and this latest installment should be outstanding. Hope to see you there. (Pacific Standard is located at 82 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, between Bergen St. and St. Mark's Place, convenient to most trains).