In the world of selling books, it’s not all about the sentences. At Ploughshares, agent Eric Nelson argues: A fresh plot matters and unusual characters do, too. “The most interesting books have characters who do the opposite of what we’d do… Imagine Hamlet, if Hamlet took decisive action. Horror movies wouldn’t exist at all without the idiot who always suggests they split up.”
The office novel, by nature, is a tricky construct, if only because your average white-collar job doesn’t offer much in the way of fiction-worthy moments. That said, recent books like Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris demonstrate how fruitful it can be to wring drama out of the rat race. In the latest issue of Dissent, Cubed author Nikil Saval delves into the contradictions of office fiction. FYI, Saval wrote a Year in Reading entry for us.
For its November issue, Wired asks guest editor President Obama for a list of his 10 essential books. The magazine estimates that reading all of them, including James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, will take only eighty-nine hours.
What does Jonathan Franzen think of the cover for Freedom? What about Charlotte Strick, the book's designer? Or the photographers that took photos of those trees, of that blue warbler? Talking Covers has collected their thoughts, and plays host to other cover-related conversations besides. Check out this one The Flame Alphabet.
“It suddenly went off: ‘Oh, fuck, I’m going to try it as a novel, aren’t I?’ A terrifying realization because John Lennon is such an iconic figure—and the feeling I get out around there, this kind of eeriness, this kind of strange haunted reverberation. I mean, the fuckin’ Atlantic is a really weird thing to grow up right beside.” Millions staff writer Bill Morris sat down with Kevin Barry to talk about his new book, Beatlebone, and about the trouble of getting John Lennon’s voice right on the page. Morris has brought you a bit on Barry in the past.
A recent survey of 19th century British literature uncovered advertising subtly placed within classic texts by authors like Dickens, Austen, and Thackeray. From Vanity Fair, for example: “‘My sisters say she has diamonds as big as pigeons' eggs,’ George said, laughing. ‘How they must set off her complexion! Surely she avails herself of Madame A.T. Rowley's Toilet Mask (or Face Gloves)...’” (via Book Bench)
New this week: Loitering by Charles d’Ambrosio; The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck; Windows on the World, a collection of Paris Review essays illustrated by Matteo Pericoli (Karl Ove Knausgaard's contribution is excerpted here); The Heart Has Its Reasons by María Dueñas; A Woman Without a Country by Eavan Boland; Love Poems by Bertolt Brecht; and Family Furnishings, a new selection of short stories by Nobel laureate Alice Munro. For more on these and other new titles, check out our Great Second-half 2014 Book Preview.
How did Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean create one of DC's most popular comics in history? The Guardian finds out the inspiration behind The Sandman. McKean shares the stories behind his favorite covers, and Gaiman also addresses his resemblance to Dream. "I suppose he looks like me, though. But that's one of those peculiar things where you gradually start to look like your dog."