Rebecca Davis O’Brien unearths a letter in which Malcolm Cowley tackles the timeless question, “Should I get an MFA?” Just as poignant as Cowley’s letter is novelist Helen DeWitt’s pointed dismissal of Cowley’s advice in the comments section.
Canonical literature isn’t the only way to learn about America. The bestseller list can be equally as telling. Matthew Kahn is reading 100 years of No. 1 bestsellers from 1913 to 2013. He blogs about the books and discusses the project in an interview with Salon’s Laura Miller. When Miller asks what makes a bestseller, he claims, “A lot of it is just a matter of accessibility. A focus on plot and character rather than structure and the prose itself.”
In his 2001 treatise, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, Nicholson Baker lamented the wholesale transfer of newspaper archives to microfilm and the subsequent destruction of the originals (A recent essay here at The Millions argued that this is still a big problem). But, according to an article in The Missourian newspaper, microfilm may at least be far more permanent than easily corrupted digital archives. As executive editor Tom Warhover notes: “How about those perfectly preserved newspaper pages that have been digitally fossilized? They’re usually stored on hard drives, which can wear out quicker than your grandmother’s underwear.”
Recommended Reading: Sarah Gerard records her phone calls with inmate Matthew Seger as he tries to find time to write in prison. “I feel like all of these ideas I have will someday, maybe, be of some use. I don’t want to let any of them go.” We interview Matthew Parker, the author of the graphic memoir, Larceny in My Blood: A Memoir of Heroin, Handcuffs, and Higher Education.
Year in Reading alum Jacqueline Woodson has been named the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Gene Luen Yang was the previous ambassador. The program is sponsored by the Library of Congress and the official ceremony is January 9th. Congratulations Jacqueline!
Coming this fall: a newly published autobiography that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote before she decided to retool her life story into the Little House on the Prairie books. Originally intended for an adult audience, Pioneer Girl gives a decidedly unsanitized account of Ingalls Wilder’s life, including love triangles, deadbeat fathers and episodes of drunken abuse. In The Telegraph, Rosa Prince compiles a preview of the new book.