Somehow we knew that Gary Shteyngart had a pretty interesting childhood. As Andy Borowitz explains in a review of Little Failure, the author’s new memoir, the elder Shteyngart regaled his son with “outlandish” stories, most notably “a sci-fi saga about a Jewish planet under constant attack by volleys of pork.” You can learn what the author likes to read today in his Year in Reading piece.
We are now over a week into Amazon’s boycott of the indie press e-books distributed under the Independent Publishers Group. IPG is taking a stand against Amazon’s hardline negotiations during the retail giant’s annual contract review, and 5000 titles are no longer available through the Kindle store. Last week Jim Hanas, author of the digitally and independently published Why They Cried, spoke out against Amazon to champion other e-readers and e-book retailers. The renegotiations are taking place across the industry, though, as Melville House’s Dennis Johnson puts it, “major industry figures at the big houses in New York — facing similar cutthroat demands from Amazon for their own annual contracts — remain silent… This isn’t over yet.”
In 1952, John Steinbeck wrote that Al Capp, the cartoonist and Lil’ Abner creator, might well have been the best writer working in the world at the time. In the Times, Andy Webster reviews a new biography of Capp, which reveals that underneath it all lay “a toxic chip on his shoulder.”
“A book critic working today must contend with a world in which more diverse voices are heard and the traditional gatekeepers have less power to enforce conformity.” LitHub interviewed Kate Tuttle, the president of the National Book Critics Circle, about literary criticism. Read our own Emily St. John Mandel on bad reviews.
Anjuli Raza Kolb reviews Rachel Poliquin’s The Breathless Zoo, which “tracks the history of whole animal and animal specimen preservation, particularly taxidermy, which refers to the stretching and mounting of the skins of vertebrates, from the seventeenth-century European explorers to the present, with a heavy focus on Victorian practitioners and collectors.” No word on whether or not Poliquin remarks on this curious Danish Facebook group of terrible taxidermy. (Bonus: Caitlin Horrocks’s new story on FiveChapters, “The Lion of Gripsholm – Part Four: IV. The Taxidermist.”)
Seeing as yesterday was Donald Barthelme’s birthday, it’s as good a time as any to remember the short fiction icon. At Brain Pickings, Maria Popova reads Barthelme’s essay “Not-Knowing,” which you can find in the author’s collection of essays and interviews. Sample quote: “Art is not difficult because it wishes to be difficult, but because it wishes to be art.”