Catapult.co, a new literary website and publisher from the founders of Electric Literature and Black Balloon Publishing, has debuted online this week. It features stories by Padgett Powell and Joy Williams, and a remarkable essay about living in New York by Alexander Chee.
How did Herman Melville’s friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne affect the writing of Moby-Dick? It’s a hard question to answer with any certainty, but Patrick James Dunagan gives it a shot, drawing evidence from Erik Hage’s book on the authors’ relationship. You could also read Hester Blum’s argument that Moby-Dick is the greatest American novel.
Jessica Love writes for The American Scholar about some recent psychological studies on the art and perspective of storytelling. Of particular interest is the way “the first person does seem to encourage us to identify with the narrator, especially when that narrator is a lot like us.” Not that identifying with narrators is the primary purpose of reading, as the New Yorker reminds us in a piece against “relatability,” but it’s something to consider the next time you pick up a novel and find a character who seems to be just like you.
“And then Obama comes over to my desk with the speech, and he has a few edits. And he’s like, ‘I just want to go through some of these edits and make sure you’re ok with this. I did this for this reason. Are you ok with that?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, buddy. You’re Barack Obama.’” Jon Favreau, former chief speechwriter to President Obama, sits down with Longform.
We’ve heard about the weak dollar making things tough on Canadian readers, but the pain is being felt by Canadian publishers as well, as profit margins diminish. The latest casualty is publisher Raincoast Books.Philip Agee died today. His Inside the Company in 1973 may have created a modern day genre, one that would be contributed to by many former agents, the CIA tell-all.The Atlantic reaches deep into the archives to bring us “The History of Children’s Books,” from 1888:It is hard to imagine a world without books for children. There have been children’s stories and folk-tales ever since man first learned to speak. “Many of them,” in Thackeray’s words, “have been narrated, almost in their present shape, for thousands of years since, to little copper-colored Sanscrit children. The very same tale has been heard by the Northmen Vikings, as they lay on their shields on deck; and by the Arabs, couched under the stars in the Syrian plains, when the flocks were gathered in, and the mares were picketed by the tents.” Children’s books, however, are a late growth of literature. Miss Yonge says, “Up to the Georgian era there were no books at all for children or the poor, excepting the class-books containing old ballads, such as Chevy Chase, and short tales, such as The King and the Cobbler, Whittington and his Cat.” We shall nevertheless see that there were English books for children (and it is with no others that we have to deal) long before this time.
When John Steinbeck wasn’t busy writing 600-page novels, he might have been a Cold War CIA spy. In 1952, Steinbeck approached the CIA and suggested he could do some spying on an upcoming European trip. “The pace and method of my junket together with my intention of talking with great numbers of people of all classes may offer peculiar advantages,” he wrote to an agent.