“Fiction is messier. Essay is, for me, an attempt at a kind of clarity. I have a very messy and chaotic mind, but when I’m writing an essay I find I can exert a bit more control over it.” The The Guardian published a Q&A with Zadie Smith with questions from fellow authors, politicians, and fans. Smith’s upcoming essay collection, Feel Free, is featured in the first half of our 2018 Great Book Preview.
As John Steinbeck’s classic Travels With Charley nears the half-century mark, a writer has retraced the author’s cross-country journey and come to the conclusion that the resulting book was full of inaccuracies and outright fabrications. The journalist Bill Steigerwald, whose article appears in the current issue of the libertarian quarterly Reason, says he didn’t set out to trash the Nobel laureate. “As a libertarian, I kind of liked the old guy,” Steigerwald tells the New York Times. “He liked guns; he liked property rights.”
Radiohead can typically do no wrong in the eyes of fans and culture pundits, but author Ian Rankin describes how even these indie heroes got him stuck in customer service hell: ” no e-mail address; no phone line; no possibility of human contact.”
“Symptoms included a frenzy for culling and hunting down first editions, rare copies, books of certain sizes or printed on specific paper.” Lauren Young writes in Atlas Obscura about the phenomenon of bibliomania, “a dark pseudo-psychological illness” that afflicted upper-class victims in Europe and England during the 1800s. And for a first-hand account of more contemporary book theft, read John Brandon on his high school pastime: “The first time was nerve-racking, a rush, but by the third book I was already settling in.”
What if I were to tell you that only half of you is actually you? A new book by Ed Yong takes a look at the human body and the microbial stowaways that make up most of us: “Reader, as you read these words, trillions of microbes and quadrillions of viruses are multiplying on your face, your hands and down there in the darkness of your gut. With every breath you take, with every move you make, you are sending bacteria into the air at the rate of about 37 million per hour — your invisible aura, your personal microbial cloud. With every gram of food you eat, you swallow about a million microbes more.”
Alexandra Alter interviews National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates about the success of Between the World and Me. As he puts it, “The best part of writing is really to educate yourself. I don’t want to be anybody’s expert. I came in to learn.” Pair with our own Sonya Chung’s Millions piece on Coates’s epistolary essay.