Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue (as seen in our Book Preview; and excerpted here) is due to hit shelves early September, and everybody seems pretty excited about it. How excited? Well, the book will come with an “enhanced e-book” replete with multimedia features, and the publishers have also decided to create a pop-up version of Brokeland Records, one of the novel’s main settings.
The story of how a publishing house began is the definition of literary inside baseball, but this piece by Jonathan Galassi — in which the FSG president responds to an upcoming book on the heyday of his company — does a pretty nice job of spurring a general reader’s interest. Among other things, it reveals that First Wife Dorothea Straus once called the company’s office “a sexual sewer.”
For the most part, Alexis de Tocqueville had good things to say about the young United States in his book Democracy in America, which is probably why we tend to forget that he thought Americans weren’t funny. What de Tocqueville missed, according to a new history of American humor, is the extent to which American funniness emerged from subversive groups of outsiders. In Bookforum, Ben Schwartz takes stock of the arguments in American Fun.
If you’re a professor or mentor, it’s the time of year you should expect to be hit up for recommendation letters. You can find inspiration in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s recommendation letter for Walt Whitman, when the latter was seeking government employment despite his controversial poetry. “He is known to me as a man of strong original genius, combining, with marked eccentricities, great powers & valuable traits of character: a self-relying large-hearted man, much beloved by his friends.” Even if the government didn’t like Whitman’s work, we do; read our own Michael Bourne’s essay on the power of Whitman’s poetry.
Tim Parks investigates the idea of “writing to death” in the cases of Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, Anton Chekhov, Charles Dickens and William Faulkner. “So many of the writers I have looked at seem permanently torn between irreconcilable positions,” Parks writes. “Eventually, the dilemma driving the work either leads to death, or is neutralized in a way that prolongs life but dulls the writing” (Bonus: Our own Mark O’Connell just reviewed Parks’s latest book, Italian Ways.)