- From Michael Chabon’s site, an update on his forthcoming novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and a preview of The Best American Short Stories 2005, which Chabon is editing. The inclusion of “at least four” genre stories, including ones by Dennis Lehane and Tom Bissell, will surely rankle literary purists.
- Letters to Frank Conroy from his students
- The AP’s books guy, Hillel Italie, profiles FSG and highlights their penchant for publishing award-winning books.
Probably won’t be able to post for the next day or two since I’ll be in New York at the Kingsland Tavern celebrating the Realistic Records release of the Recoys album. Have I mentioned this? Should be a blast. But don’t worry, I’ll be back with many more books to talk about, and hopefully some added features for this little blog of mine. Bye for now.
Every day, hours of streamed sound — from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to Dr. Dre to Arctic Monkeys — flow through dirty earbuds and into my scattered brain. The Swedish music service is nearly as important to me as red blood cells, especially when deadlines loom. However, I’ve come to realize Spotify doesn’t exist just to crank out pop songs and other traditional forms of music — it’s a mine of audiobook gems.
Several playlists floating throughout this eighth and 16th note galaxy boast obscure books, crackly poems from the 1920s, and a surprising mix of French and German audiobooks. The easiest way to access this archived library is under “browse” and then “genre & moods” category. Scroll down the tiles, past “Christian” and “Travel” until there, at the very bottom right tile, you find “Word,” a digital funhouse for bookish nerds. A few of the playlists have hilarious names like “A Hipster’s Guide to Poetry” or “Stories for Your Inner Child;” I half expect “Nietzsche’s Existential Crises” and “Sex Books for Basic Girls” to appear soon. To have the world of Audible hidden within the chic confines of Spotify (with student pricing)!
The sexy repartee of Darcy delivered straight to my ears? The transatlantic, resounding voice of Sylvia Plath reading her own multilayered poetry? An entire playlist of William Shakespeare’s sonnets is there to delight, along with biographies of classical composers and Anton Chekhov short stories (“A Tragic Actor,” anyone?) A few book listings were only excerpts or the abridged versions of the full novel, but you can find The Jungle Book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Call of the Wild, among others, in their full-length glory. I’m fast abandoning my playlists of The Beatles, Cage the Elephant, and The Notorious B.I.G. for the sinuous diction of 19th-century English authors and Shakespeare.
It’s not just audiobook publishers offering their wares to the Internet — voice actors listed as independent artists present narrated works, mostly poetry or short story collections. There’s also an extensive body of work narrated by the authors themselves. The rich tones of Sylvia Plath! The lulling drawl of T.S. Eliot reading The Wasteland, or “Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock,” or Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (“With Cats, some say, one rule is true: Don’t speak till you are spoken to”).
(There’s one glaring oddity about Spotify books. Most of the audiobooks are classics the copyrights of which have expired (which is, obviously, what allows them to be published). However, a large number of current audiobooks are floating in the netherworld of Spotify — in German! Stephen King’s The Stand, Antoine Laurain’s The President’s Hat (originally published in French), Dan Brown’s Inferno…all are sketchily encoded in German and broken down into one-minute long segments.)
Audible is great — for passionate book lovers willing to slice $15 from their paycheck. ITunes was tailored for fancy pants, each song and audiobook sold separately (excluding Apple Music, which I won’t go into here). But Spotify? It’s the hot-button music player for students. Several of my friends do not read (*tear*), but with the smirking face of Shakespeare next to the tattoos of Adam Levine, they’re more likely to hear the bard out. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” with “Your sugar, Yes, please, Won’t you come and put it down on me” — what a beautiful mess of sine and cosine waves!
Here is a playlist, for your summer listening pleasure.
Why is it that so many people are turned off by the classics? Is it because would-be readers are afraid they won’t “get it?” Or does reading a well-known tome on the subway or in a cafe exude an air of pretentiousness, when it’s more likely that the reader just never followed through on that English lit assignment?In talking about his latest book, Classics for Pleasure, the Pulitzer Prize winning critic, Michael Dirda, said he not only hopes to make the classics appear less daunting and more accessible to the general public, but he also wants to “encourage people to read more widely.”Dirda, a columnist for The Washington Post’s Book World, said his goal is to get people to “read beyond the recognized classics and read beyond the contemporary.” He made his remarks Tuesday during a lecture, co-sponsored by the English-Speaking Union, at the Women’s National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C.Classics for Pleasure consists of about 90 essays, written by Dirda, that describe the importance of lesser-known authors such as Sheridan Le Fanu and Abolqasem Ferdowsi as well as literary giants like Henry James and Christopher Marlowe.Each essay, ranging from two to five pages, serves as a primer on the era and author, with excerpts from famous works. They also offer some much-needed perspective, even for the seasoned reader, and are grouped together with topical headings such as Realms of Adventure, The Dark Side and Love’s Mysteries.But why should these classics, or any others for that matter, deserve a kind of sacred reverence?”Truly distinctive voices, once heard, ought never to be forgotten,” Dirda writes. “More than anything else, great books speak to us of our own very real feelings and failings, of our all-too-human daydreams and confusions.”From Dirda’s point of view, some of those failings and confusions are commonplace on the Web, perpetrated by those who dabble in his trade. He said that while “blogs and the online bookish universe are a wonderful thing… there are no oversights for the most part,” meaning no editorial review like the kind he gets from The Washington Post.He went on to say that some online book critics have a tendency to make a name for themselves by writing “vulgar, rude, outrageous” reviews, and such pieces should not be the standard for literary criticism.While that eventuality seems unlikely, Dirda’s nonetheless uses the book to re-establish his high bar for criticism while drawing in readers to “discover” the classics of yesteryear. One is certainly easier to achieve than the other.See Also: Classifying Classics; Nothing is Dead Yet: The Era of the Trusted Fellow Reader; Literature and History
It’s not just July, it’s the “Harry Potter month” to end all Harry Potter months. With book 7 coming out on the 21st, the frenzy will be ramping up over the next couple of weeks.Amazon has been doing its best to stoke the flames (recall the Harry-est Town in America promotion). A new press release from the online bookseller is breathless even by the form’s loose standards. “Harry Potter Mania Reaches All-Time High on Amazon.com” it proclaims, and I imagine millions of foaming clickers rampaging through Amazon’s digital halls and tearing the place to pieces. Alas, by “mania” Amazon means pre-orders, which at last count are approaching 1.6 million, eclipsing the record total set by book 6. Amazon continues to incite the madness, however, with its new offer of a $5 “promotional certificate to spend in August” for customers who pre-order the new book. Go crazy, Harry Potter fans.
A “Minority Opinion” has been posted over at the LBC Blog by the Co-op members who were not fans of the first LBC pick – Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. Some good discussion is already brewing in the comments. As for me, I fall somewhere in between the Minority Opinion and the LBC members who wholeheartedly endorse the book. To me, Case Histories is a worthwhile read, but perhaps not up to par with the big things that many seem to be expecting from the LBC. The most vocal commenters seem to pulling for the Co-op to choose a book that is of impeccable quality, yet has been ignored by big publishing houses and major reviewers. If such a book exists, I hope we can find it for our readers. “Read This” picks aside, I think the LBC may also prove valuable in determining whether or not the Great American (or British, or Chinese, etc.) Novel is in any danger of being ignored or underappreciated.
Now, this sounds like a good idea: Marvel Comics announced today that is has put more than 2,500 comic books online with more to come. The idea is that with a subscription, readers can get unlimited access to the online comic vault. Clearly Marvel’s still working out the bugs – I tried to view some of the “free samples” but got a bunch of errors – but the move makes a lot of sense. Traditional publishers are experimenting with online readers, but the widgets are designed to make it easy to view snippets of books rather than whole books. With comics, much more easily consumed on a computer screen, these efforts seem more viable, as a trove of comics a click away will likely tempt many fans.