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.”
Two great scoops were passed my way by the intrepid Brian, fresh from his European sojourn. The first is this so-wierd-it-has-to-be-true story about Newt Gingrich being an extremely prolific and friendly Amazon.com customer reviewer. Click here for the must-read gory details.While in Spain, Brian read Robert Hughes’ new book Barcelona: The Great Enchantress from the National Geographic Directions series and noticed on the back cover that Jon Lee Anderson, the New Yorker’s Baghdad correspondent extraordinaire, has a book for the series coming out. It will be about Andalucia. This will be a busy year for Anderson. In the fall, his fantastic Baghdad pieces will be collected in The Fall Of Baghdad and he will also release Guerrillas: Journeys in the Insurgent World, which ought to be quite good.
If I had been near enough to a computer and had enough time to blog over the last month, I probably would have talked about Nicholson Baker’s new book, Checkpoint. I haven’t read it, so I can only comment on the reactions that I have seen to the book. Most have been negative. The book is about two friends who are sitting in a hotel room having a conversation. One character wants to assassinate President George W. Bush, the other is trying to talk him out of it. The subject matter alone seems to come from a desire to create controversy, and though Baker and his publisher have gone out of their way to condemn violence, Baker has said that he was motivated by his own personal anger to write the book. If you ask me, controversial subject matter + short book (115 pages in this case) + rush to press = literary publicity stunt, and many, including the New York Times agree.Readers of fiction looking for a weekly dose and writers of fiction looking for an audience should check out Weekly Reader, a little website that delivers a story to your inbox every week.Poaching two great links from Arts & Letters Daily: Jonathan Yardley loves Hunter S. Thompson’s new collection of pieces from ESPN.com’s page 2, Hey Rube; and Tibor Fischer discusses the current slate of Booker hopefuls.
Who was it that came up with the idea that a million monkeys in front of a million typewriters would eventually, with their random keyboard smashing, type William Shakespeare’s complete works? Well, you can give the experiment a try here (link from the CC). And while you’re waiting for your monkeys to finish typing Love’s Labor’s Lost, check out some book excerpts I found:Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick — excerpt, NYT review, SF Chronicle reviewChain of Command by Seymour Hersh — excerpt, CS Monitor reviewThe Double by Jose Saramago — excerpt, NZ Herald reviewThe Fall Of Baghdad by Jon Lee Anderson — excerpt, WaPo review
Millions reader Lisa found Booker winner Line of Beauty to be “a more intellectualized, less satirical version of Stephen Fry’s The Liar.” I’m sure Lisa won’t mind if you borrow that line at the next cocktail party.The new Gabriel Garcia Marquez book (Memories of My Melancholy Whores, they’re calling it now) continues to generate headlines. This time Gabo foils the pirates. Go Gabo!At Amazon you can watch Jon Stewart make an ISBN joke whilst hawking his book America. Just click on the link and then check out the “Amazon.com Exclusives.”Spotted on the El: Truman Capote’s “unfinished novel” Answered Prayers.
The Guardian gives us Booker-winner Line of Beauty “condensed in the style of the original.”Some of you may have already seen this one: The 100 Greatest Books of all Time, also from the Guardian. How many have you read? I’m at 24, and I love that Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim makes the list. To anyone who is looking for a recommendation on what to read right now: get Lucky Jim, you’ll love it.Weren’t we talking about ISBNs the other day? Here’s a new blog about ISBNs and “book information” by a former Amazon employee and the creator of isbn.nu.Steve Landsburg asks: Too many books? I’m not completely sure I see his point. He seems to be implying that people only read one book a year. Furthermore, publishers fall all over themselves trying to create a blockbuster book; it’s far more cost-effective to promote a few guaranteed big sellers than a lot of risky titles. Sad but true. Perhaps the better thing to do is not to bemoan the inevitable Da Vinci Codes but to instead look for creative, cost-effective ways to promote riskier books.Malcolm Gladwell, author of the trendsetting book about trendsetting, The Tipping Point, has new book coming out called Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, in which he “reveals that what we think of as decisions made in the blink of an eye are much more complicated than assumed.”
Paul Auster is still getting mileage out of a short story that appeared in the New York Times on Christmas day 1990. “Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story” was subsequently released as a limited edition book illustrated by Brian Cronin. The story became the inspiration for the films Smoke and Blue in the Face. Now, Henry Holt is releasing another edition of the story. This time the book is illustrated by an Argentinean artist named, cryptically, ISOL. Here’s the story if you want to read it.The London Review of Books is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and to mark the occasion, the Guardian sits down with LRB editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers.The CS Monitor continues to provide its capsule reviews of the National Book Award nominees. Here are the reviews for the young adult category.
I’ve mentioned here before that I’m currently getting my masters in new media journalism in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern. As such, expect to see the occasional post on the topic from here on out. To that end, I want to mention Dan Gillmor’s book We the Media. Gillmor is well-known for his blog which is, broadly speaking, about the blogging phenomenon itself. The book takes on the question of where blogs fit into the panoply of the media. It’s worth a look for anyone who’s wondered if these here blogs are good for anything beyond killing time in their cubicles. Best of all, the entire book is available for free at the publisher’s website.That’s enough new media for now. In other news Michael Chabon’s new Sherlock Holmes tale, The Final Solution: A Story Of Detection, is out tomorrow. We’ll see what the reviews bring, but in the meantime, take a look at this excerpt.Finally, have a look at this: A Colorado man is compiling “The Great Library Card Collection.”