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.
Literary prizes are nothing new, but prizes that give writers real estate are a thoroughly modern development. At Salon, Michele Filgate investigates our odd new economy, in which lucky writers win leases to homes, inns and (in one case) a goat farm. You could also read our own Nick Ripatrazone on the Amtrak residency.
Sam Sacks offers up a review of Booker winner The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga for Open Letters“Obama spotted carrying poetry book” – It was Collected Poems 1948-1984 by Derek WalcottThe amazing, exhaustive, 7-part, behind-the-scenes look at the 2008 campaign from NewsweekRahm, Ari, Zeke: Which Emmanuel brother are you?In case you weren’t already tired of this… the n+1 vs. the lit-blogs row of early 2007 lands in an academic journal. Our own contribution to the saga is duly noted.Wyatt Mason offers more thoughts on John Leonard (via Conversational Reading)Malcolm Gladwell’s latest, The Outliers, hits stores a week from today. Gladwell introduces the book in a video at Amazon (scroll down a bit).Oxford researchers figure out the ten most annoying phrases.And the New Oxford American Dictionary has named its Word of the Year: hypermiling.As we remember Michael Crichton, “The Top 5 ‘Crazy’ Michael Crichton Ideas That Actually Came True“Nam Le wins the Dylan Thomas Prize. We interviewed him in August.
Literary critic Amitava Kumar has written a personal essay for the Chronicle on his experience reading from Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses at the Jaipur Literary Festival in India, where the work has banned for 23 years. Read The Millions coverage of the festival here.
The CIA was known for unorthodox espionage techniques during the Cold War, but using Doctor Zhivago to undermine the U.S.S.R. is one of the strangest. The CIA helped print and distribute the banned book because it would make Soviets wonder “what is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country in his own language for his own people to read.”