A big week for books: Zadie Smith’s NW is out (read the first lines), as is Christopher Hitchens’s Mortality, a collection of essays penned while he fought cancer (our essay on Hitchens’ death) (his collection Arguably is out in paperback today). More new books: Emma Straub’s Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, Umberto Eco’s essay collection Inventing the Enemy, Davy Rothbart’s essay collection My Heart Is an Idiot, Frederick Seidel’s poetry collection Nice Weather, documentarian Errol Morris’s A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald, and the Navy Seal book about the bin Laden mission. Also, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides is now out in paperback (read Eugenides on the book’s genesis), as is Stephen Greenblatt’s Pulitzer winner The Swerve.
At The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rachel Toor channels George Orwell, immortal champion of good writing in English, to help young scholars avoid the ghastly prose style that dominates contemporary academic writing.
At Slate, our own Mark O’Connell delves into the history of the self-interview, which you can find many examples of over at The Nervous Breakdown. Mark cites examples of self-interviews by prominent writers, including Tennessee Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Year in Reading alum John Banville.
“Morality… is a slippery slope and nowhere more, perhaps, than in regard to art, to literature, which begins as the expression of a single heart, a single mind. That it becomes more than that — connective, the fiber of a conversation between writer and reader, and between both of them and the world — is not just the point but the miracle… To frame this miracle in moral terms is to misread what art extends to us: a way of joining, for a moment only, across the void.” In an article for the LA Times, David L. Ulin considers the implications of the George V. Hunt, SJ Prize for Excellence in Journalism, Arts and Letters, which will award $25,000 to a writer “of sound moral character and reputation [who] must not have published works that are manifestly atheistically or morally offensive.”
Today, stuff yourself on envy and/or nostalgia for the NYC literary life. First, whet your appetite on the New Yorker’s gorgeous illustrations of notable bookstores, including one “the size of a luxurious Park Avenue closet.” Continue to a responsible main course essay on Choire Sicha, The Awl, and the Brooklyn loft building where it was founded and resides: a place that is “pleasant” but “a little dumpy, too, because that’s sort of our MO.” For dessert, savor Erin Loeb’s personal essay on leaving New York, and finish with a fittingly varied cheese course of other writers also saying goodbye.
Byliner has published two never-before-seen stories by the late Elmore Leonard. The first story, “The Trespassers,” follows a pair of hunters, while the second focuses on a whiskey-swilling priest who gets involved in a showdown in the Wild West. (You should also read our own Bill Morris on the qualities that made Leonard a special writer.)
It’s been rumored for some time that The Flaming Lips were working with Aaron Sorkin to develop a musical, but yesterday in a press release, the project was given an expected release date, and Sorkin was said to be no longer involved. “Yoshimi” will tell the story of “a young Japanese artist who journeys into a robot world where she must contend with a host of evil forces.” (Or, you know, basically this song acted out.)