In the spring of 2006, John Unsworth taught a graduate seminar on “Twentieth-Century American Bestsellers.” It led to one of history’s finest class projects–a browsable database of bestsellers, 337 in all. As with any bestseller lists, you’ll find a range of titles, everything from Thomas Wolfe to Tom Clancy, but click through and find that each entry includes an extremely detailed description of the book’s history (these were compiled by graduate students, after all); a mini-essay on its reception; images of covers, page layouts, and even some ads; and more. It is, in short, bibliophilic crack. (Thanks Craig)
Even if you’ve already seen the outstanding documentary Wordplay, you’ll still want to check out this Atlantic article on how Will Shortz makes his New York Times crossword puzzles.
“The art style also changes from chapter to chapter — some panels fill the pages to the edges and are overwhelming in their dark palette; some seem ordinary in proportion, confident; others fill the space around small figures with words, words, words; and others still have a minimalist, sketch-like quality and barely occupy the page at all — and they aren’t always chapters, or even stories, in the traditional sense.” On MariNaomi’s Dragon’s Breath and Other Stories.
We’ve heard about the weak dollar making things tough on Canadian readers, but the pain is being felt by Canadian publishers as well, as profit margins diminish. The latest casualty is publisher Raincoast Books.Philip Agee died today. His Inside the Company in 1973 may have created a modern day genre, one that would be contributed to by many former agents, the CIA tell-all.The Atlantic reaches deep into the archives to bring us “The History of Children’s Books,” from 1888:It is hard to imagine a world without books for children. There have been children’s stories and folk-tales ever since man first learned to speak. “Many of them,” in Thackeray’s words, “have been narrated, almost in their present shape, for thousands of years since, to little copper-colored Sanscrit children. The very same tale has been heard by the Northmen Vikings, as they lay on their shields on deck; and by the Arabs, couched under the stars in the Syrian plains, when the flocks were gathered in, and the mares were picketed by the tents.” Children’s books, however, are a late growth of literature. Miss Yonge says, “Up to the Georgian era there were no books at all for children or the poor, excepting the class-books containing old ballads, such as Chevy Chase, and short tales, such as The King and the Cobbler, Whittington and his Cat.” We shall nevertheless see that there were English books for children (and it is with no others that we have to deal) long before this time.
At the LARB, Anne Trubek quotes Lionel Trilling in a review of The Son and American Rust, the two books published thus far by New Yorker 20 Under 40 alum Phillipp Meyer. “In the American metaphysic,” Trilling wrote in his essay “Reality in America,” “reality is always material reality, hard, resistant, unformed, impenetrable, and unpleasant.” Those of you who read our pieces on both books may be able to guess why the quote is relevant.
A new, non-profit literary journal has launched in Austin, Texas. Each issue of The Austin Review will include four pieces of flash non-fiction, four short stories, and one work of critical analysis. Special attention will be paid to writers from the city that gave us Sixth Street.
For The New Yorker Alex Ross describes the role Nebraska’s prairies played in Willa Cather’s writing, his encounters with Cather people, and how he became one himself. “From this roughshod Europe of the mind, Cather also emerged with a complex understanding of American identity. Her symphonic landscapes are inflected with myriad accents, cultures, personal narratives—all stored away in a prodigious memory. “