There is a controversy brewing right now in Britain about readability and excellence in literature. Apparently, being “readable” is no longer a compliment.
Mark Twain first rose to fame as the author of an essay about a frog-jumping contest in California. Originally titled “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,” the essay went viral in America’s biggest newspapers, eventually inspiring the New York Tribune to write of Twain that “no reputation was ever so rapidly won.” Yet the humor which made the essay so popular is often lost on modern audiences, in no small part because, as Ben Turnoff writes in Lapham’s Quarterly, frontier humor isn’t funny if there’s no Wild West.
Out this week: The Mothers by Brit Bennett; The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky; Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar; Future Sex by Emily Witt; Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner; Upstream by Mary Oliver; and Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. For more on these and other new titles, go read our Great Second-Half 2016 Book Preview.
Recommended Reading: Oliver Burkeman on a new group of optimistic thinkers.
In random-but-awesome news, Geoff Manaugh‘s BLDGBLOG reports on a new project by Dutch earth scientists to piece together what they’re calling an “atlas of the underworld.” Using CT scans to visualize “invisible landscape features—the ghostly remains of entire continents—hidden inside the planet,” the project will reveal a surface within earth’s surface. See also: our review of Where You Are, an anthology of sixteen alternative maps by a range of artists and writers including Geoff Dyer, Valeria Luiselli, and Leanne Shapton.
I spent last weekend as a correspondent for the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. As such, I covered two events for the organization: Friday night’s ninth annual Translation Slam and Sunday afternoon’s Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture featuring Sonia Sotomayor. (I also submitted a pretty sweet author photograph, if I do say so myself.) For full multimedia coverage of the entire festival, check out the PEN Live Tumblr.
Recommended reading: Alex Beam on the distinction between books and “books.”