We’ve traced how Stoner became a bestseller in Europe, but I took a closer look at where the book started, The University of Missouri, for Vox Magazine. As it turns out, John Williams found inspiration in some real faculty rivalries.
I’d heard that the New Yorker excerpt was the opening of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom, but it turns out it is preceded in the novel by this: “The news about Walter Berglund wasn’t picked up locally–he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now–but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read the New York Times. According to a long and very unflattering story in the Times, Walter had made quite a mess of his professional life out there in Washington. His old neighbors had some difficulty reconciling the quotes about him in the Times (‘arrogant,’ ‘high-handed,’ ‘ethically compromised’) with the generous, smiling, red-faced 3M employee they remembered pedaling his commuter bicycle up Summit Avenue in February snow; it seemed strange that Walter, who was greener than Greenpeace and whose own roots were rural, should be in trouble now for conniving with the coal industry and mistreating country people. Then again, there had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds.”
David Foster Wallace stranded on a desert island.Another reason to love Washington Post critic Jonathan Yardley: his refreshingly enthusiastic take on “slacker fiction” and All the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen, who, admittedly, “scarcely qualifies as a slacker.”Paul Auster was a protesting, fence-tearing, rioting crazy ’68er, too, it turns out.The phenomenal Burkhard Bilger supplements his New Yorker piece on folk-music field recordings with some audio.Malcolm Gladwell’s seemingly endless string of public appearances continues. This one is, intriguingly, a public “book discussion” with the Washington, D.C. chief of police.With some speculating that CBS News is about to close up shop and that Katie Couric is on her way out, rumors are already swirling about the obligatory memoir.Jonathan Franzen answers the question “Do you regret your run-in with Oprah?” in a “Big Think” video. Aficionados of Franzen mannerisms may also enjoy the other fifteen or so Franzen videos that Big Think has available.
Over at The Atlantic, Terrence Rafferty claims that women are writing the best crime novels. “Their books are light on gunplay, heavy on emotional violence. Murder is de rigueur in the genre, so people die at the hands of others—lovers, neighbors, obsessive strangers—but the body counts tend to be on the low side,” he writes. Pair with this Millions piece on novels where women are true detectives.
Book Riot has compiled a list of Roxane Gay’s recommended reads via Twitter. Some of her choices include Citizen by Claudia Rankine, God Help the Child by Toni Morrison, and City on Fire by our own Garth Risk Hallberg. See more books Gay recommends in our Year in Reading column.
In her short history of executioners, Stassa Edwards notes that the decision to replace “the traditional punishment” of drowning people “in a sack in a local river” was actually quite pragmatic: it was “more economical” to go with a simple beheading.