Contemporary Arabic Novels

Claudia Roth Pierpont writes about the contemporary Arabic novel in this week's New Yorker, highlighting Iraqi, Palestinian, and Egyptian examples.

Edwidge Danticat on Earthquake in Haiti

Video of Haitian American novelist Edwidge Danticat talking about the earthquake in Haiti at Democracy Now.
Essays, Notable Articles

Sex, Seriously: James Salter Trumps the Great Male Novelists

I. It’s been said (possibly by Elvis Costello, though the attribution is murky) that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  The same might be said for sex, and even more aptly when it comes to writing about writing about sex. The problem here, in my opinion, is the preposition “about.”  Writing, talking, dancing about something puts both originator and recipient at an inert distance; the act becomes exercise; organic human experience becomes intellectualized analysis.  In other words, something whole becomes atomized, and we are talking here about experiences which are greater than the sum of their parts.   To give a psychotherapeutic analogy, it is much more productive, more transformative, to weep with both your emotions and your whole body than to state (accuracy and earnestness notwithstanding), “I feel so sad.” Katie Roiphe took on the task – of writing about writing about sex – with great skill and insight in her recent article for the NY Times Sunday Book Review, "The Naked and the Conflicted." If you’re a regular blog-surfer, you’ve probably read it.  If you haven’t, I recommend you do.  What I appreciated especially about Roiphe’s article is that it leaves us with a series of provocative questions to ponder: Where has sex, as a serious literary consideration – “a force that could change things” – gone to?  If, as Roiphe posits (convincingly, I’d say), today’s representative young male literary writers (Wallace, Safran Foer, Eggers, Kunkel) approach physical love and sexual connection with ambivalence, self-consciousness, repulsion, discomfort, and trepidation – regarding their literary forebears’ (Roth, Mailer, Bellow, Updike) lusty, quasi-religious, dark, aestheticizing explorations of sex/sexual conquest with an “almost puritanical disapproval” – what does this reflect about the relative importance of sex for the X and Y literary generations?  Have we in fact become – as depicted and reflected in contemporary fictional characters – “too cool for sex”?  Too smart, too sophisticated, too busily progressive and companionate in our relationships?  Are we no longer capable of attaching words like “exuberance,” “mystery,” “power,” “beauty,” “imaginative quest,” “epic,” “celebration,” “charisma,” and “immortality” to sexual experience and connection, in literature or in life?  Is portraying a sense of hopeful adventure and expansive possibility through robust sexual experience simply retrograde, passé, “bizarrely adolescent” (David Foster Wallace’s words), even anti-feminist in the age of sensitive guys, ironic sophistication, and global improvement? Perhaps we have relegated our abiding interest in sex-as-quest-for-self-realization to the safer, more dismissable, it's-just-my-guilty-pleasure realm of entertainment.  Exhibit A: the popularity of Mad Men among the literary set. II. In 1993, Auberon Waugh (son of Evelyn) established The Literary Review’s “Bad Sex in Fiction Award” – “with the aim of gently dissuading authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing, or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels.”   Reading through passages from this year’s "Bad Sex Awards" shortlist, along with an all-time bad sex passages list published by Flavorpill, it becomes clear the minefield one braves when crafting a linguistic experience of sex for a contemporary literary reader.   If one were to develop a “Don’ts” list for fiction writers suiting up for the challenge, it might look like this (warning: graphic language to follow): 1. Beware of sensory descriptions which include food analogies – “honeydew breasts” (Styron), “like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg” (Littell), “the oysterish intricacy of her” (Anthony Quinn), “he felt his cashew become a banana, and then a rippled yam” (Updike) – or “wet” verbs like smear, suck, lick, slither, slide. 2. Be sparing with anatomical terminology for sexual organs, whether scientific or slang; and if your passage does contain such words, beware of mixing and matching high diction and low diction, i.e. it’s nearly impossible to get away with raunchy lyricism.  (Here I will spare the reader specific examples, but suffice it to say that sex-organ diction, both high and low, is apparently like neon paisley; it doesn’t go with anything.) 3. Avoid spiritual-religious metaphors – “salvation” (Palahniuk), “rapture” (Ayn Rand), “magical composite / weird totem” (Roth), “on the edge of a precipice beyond which can be glimpsed a dark-green distance in a reeking mist and something shining out at them, a pulsing point of light” (Banville), “my licking a primitive form of language in a simple prayer” (Theroux) – or any language that gestures toward the grand or the epic: “weeping orifice” (Ann Allestree), “Imperial pint of semen” (Neal Stephenson), “Defile her” (Roth), “like a torero…trailing his cape in the dust before the baffled bull,” “gravid tremulousness of her breasts” (Banville). 4. Be hyper-vigilant about clichéd metaphors and similes, particularly oceanic ones: “like a tide determined to crash against those ancient rocks” (Simon Van Booy), “it was as if he were splashing about helplessly on the shore of some great ocean, waiting for a current, or the right swimming stroke to sweep him effortlessly out to sea" (Sanjida O’Connell). 5. Avoid machinistic metaphors: “with his fingers, now experienced and even inspired, he starts to steer her enjoyment like a ship towards its home port” (Amos Oz), “I’m going to pull the lever, I’m going to let the blade drop” (Littell), “he enters her like a fucking pile driver” (Nick Cave). I am here reminded of a word that, throughout grade school, never ceased to elicit mouth-covering giggles: rubber.   We could be talking about the elastic things you shoot across the classroom at your nemesis, or the soles of your shoes, and yet still we couldn’t hold back the laughter.  It was nervous laughter, of course, because at the age of 10, a condom – the danger, excitement, and illicitness that object conjured – was taboo, mysterious, unknown.  We snickered out of anxious, uncomfortable curiosity; and, of course, to be cool. Is it possible that our fun with “Bad Sex” lists – rooted, I’d argue, in our ambivalence about whether sex on the page, in all its linguistic sensory sloppiness and spiritual-existential achingness, is comedy or bathos or misogyny – reflects (along with our sound aesthetic judgment, of course) a devolving anxiety and discomfort about our core physical sensuality?  Why do we scoff at all things exuberantly, epically sensual?   Are sexual relationships really so blasé, so measured, in our modern lives?  Is this how we now define “mature love,” i.e. as relationships in which an appetite for sex—the force of sex—is considered unevolved or juvenile; in which sex “doesn’t matter,” or, perhaps, shouldn’t matter? III. Woefully missing from Roiphe’s analysis of sex and the GMNs – the Great Male Novelists of the 1960s – is James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime.   At the end of “The Naked and the Conflicted,” Roiphe exhorts the reader to Be Not Offended by the sexual shenanigans of our literary lions, but rather to behold them with “fondness” – “as we do the inventors of the first, failed airplanes, who stood on the tarmac with their unwieldy, impossible machines, and looked up at the sky.”  Such withering nostalgia may apply to the Updike-Mailer-Roth-Bellow quartet, but Salter, to me, a Gen X-er in 2010, is present; alive; not just looking up, but flying.  Here is Webster Schott, from the April 2, 1967, NY Times review of the first edition of A Sport and a Pastime: Arching gracefully, like a glorious 4th of July rocket, [A Sport and a Pastime] illuminates the dark sky of sex.  It’s a tour de force in erotic realism… a continuous journey of the soul via the flesh. I do not detail Dean’s and Anne-Marie’s amorous exercises because medical Latin won’t do the job and sex English in isolation sounds stupid and dirty.  This is a direct novel, not a grimy one.  Salter celebrates the rites of erotic innovation and understands their literary uses.  He creates a small, flaming world of sensualism inhabited by Dean and Anne-Marie, and invaded by the imagination of the narrator.  We enter it.  We feel it.  It has the force of a hundred repressed fantasies.  And it carries purpose: Salter details lust in search of its passage into love. Schott’s words echo those of Mailer in “The Prisoner of Sex,” which Roiphe quotes: Lust…dominates the mind and other habits, it appropriates loyalties, generalizes character, leaches character out, rides on the fuel of almost any emotional gas – whether hatred, affection, curiosity, even the pressures of boredom – yet it is never definable because it can alter to love or be as suddenly sealed from love. [emphasis mine] Sensualism that carries purpose; lust in a liminal state, an actively searching journey, a “passage,” toward love.  Direct, not grimy.  Schott sheds light on the elusive threshold between the pornographically insipid and the sensually sublime.  For Salter (for Dean and Anne-Marie), sex matters; God, does it matter.  Sex is beautiful and potent, and it changes us, one way or another. “To live without it is to be less than alive," Schott ruminates, like a man inclining his ear toward a faint, inescapable echo.  "And to live for sex alone is to be less than human.”  You know it when you see it, the saying goes – regarding porn, regarding gratuitous and/or “unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing, or redundant” sexual material; but so too are there narrative, aesthetic, emotional markers.  The first time I read A Sport and a Pastime, just two years ago, I knew I’d experienced something unusual, alive, difficult in its directness; not something to look upon “fondly,” but a story that, like all great art, connected me more deeply and truthfully to my whole human self – sans irony or “cool.” There is no “about” in Salter’s feverish reality-dream, dancing or otherwise, no distanced atomization of the physicality of sex, the intimacy of physicality.  The nakedness of these characters is soul-deep, and the novel demands no less of its reader; the “new narcissism,” per Roiphe –“boys too busy gazing at themselves in the mirror to think much about girls, boys lost in the beautiful vanity of ‘I was warm and wanted her to be warm,’ or the noble purity of being just a tiny bit repelled by the crude advances of the desiring world” – won’t do here.  Reynolds Price wrote in a 2006 introduction: “…Salter means us to feel…the vivid and literally palpable reality of Philip Dean and Anne-Marie Costallat, to feel it through a growing awareness of the simple splendor of their physical bodies when joined in many forms of intercourse…” Are Dean and Anne-Marie’s “amorous exercises” raunchy, violent, aberrant, empty, farcical, magical, loving, religious, lyrical, beautiful?  I can’t answer that for you; and herein lies the novel’s profound meaning: that it will require courage – maybe even epic courage – for you to answer for yourself.

Elif Batuman on Reading the Russians

Essayist and Russian literature scholar Elif Batuman in an interview with the Boston Globe on how the Russians get the combination of "funny and sad" better than the Germans, the English, or the French.

Year-End Reflections: The Great and The Good

The intellect of man is forced to choose perfection of the life, or of the work, And if it take the second must refuse A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark. -William Butler Yeats, from “The Choice” I.  Art & Life If you’re like me, your year-end mail and email are filled with requests for charitable giving.  As I consider all the different organizations pleading their cause, I realize that they are basically divided between two types of missions: artistic and social. For many years I worked as a grant writer and fundraising consultant for nonprofit organizations.  I started out working for social-change groups and gradually shifted to the arts.  While seeking funding for the latter, an inevitable obstacle presented itself in the form of funder requirements that the organization address “poverty, education, or underrepresented groups” in some direct, demonstrable way.  We’d sit around conference tables talking about how we might incorporate a “social component” or “education project” into the arts program, only to (wisely) realize that such a project would just be a poorly-executed pinky-finger effort, a tacked-on afterthought. (Similarly, I once took the lead on an arts education program for a community development organization, which promptly dissolved once I left.) The undercurrent of these discussions was that carrying out a program or a mission required both intention and expertise.  It wasn’t that we weren’t genuinely excited about being challenged into new territory; but we knew our own expertise, and we’d witnessed the pitfalls of breadth over depth which many growing organizations fell into. II. Greatness & Goodness A graduate school professor said to our class on Day One of our writing workshop: “The Great is the enemy of The Good.”  I’m not sure if he was coining his own expression, or perhaps paraphrasing Voltaire’s, "Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien" (Dictionnaire Philosophique, 1764) — literally translated, “The best is the enemy of the good.”  In either case, I couldn’t help, in my youth, but be a little offended; it was Day One, after all, and you’d think he might at least get to know us a little before discouraging too-high writerly aspirations. Over the years, however, that expression has stuck with me, and its meaning has morphed into something quite different — the conflict in my mind now not one between artistic brilliance and mediocrity, but between created and creator. III. Lou Kahn and the “Inevitable” Conflict Between Great and Good I recently re-watched the film My Architect, a bio-documentary on Louis Kahn, written and directed by his son Nathaniel Kahn.  Lou Kahn was a visionary architect, well known for completing just a handful of monumental masterpieces, including the National Assembly Building (Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban) of Bangladesh, the Salk Institute in La Jolla, two buildings at Yale University, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, and the Phillips Exeter Academy library.  Such celebrity architects as I.M. Pei, Philip Johnson, and Moshe Safdie have praised Kahn as the quintessential architect-as-artist — a brilliant but oddball character who stayed true to his aesthetic visions at the expense of commercial success.  Indian architect B.V. Doshi described Kahn as a guru, a yogi.  Kahn was found dead of a heart attack in a public restroom at Penn Station one night in 1974, at the age of 73; it took three days to identify him.  At the time of his death, he was deeply in debt. Nathaniel was Lou Kahn’s third child, each child born of a different mother; only Sue Ann, the eldest, was “legitimate.” Nathaniel was 11 years old when his father died and made the film, 30 years later, as a way of finding and knowing his father.  Through the film we come to learn that Lou did not suffer much over his three-family situation, while the women and children involved did. This is not at all a film about villain and victims; avoiding such maudlin simplicities is perhaps its greatest accomplishment.  And yet the film’s core inquiry does seem to be this question of whether or not a great man is capable of also being a good man.  In the film’s emotional climax, Bangladeshi architect and teacher Shamsul Wares, who worked closely with Kahn on the Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban, says to Nathaniel, teary-eyed and overcome with both admiration and sadness: It was almost impossible, a building for a country like ours; 30-50 years back, it was nothing, only paddy fields… he gave us democracy…he has given us the institution for democracy… he paid his life for this.  And that is why he is great, and we will remember him.  But he was also human. Now his failure to satisfy the family life is a [sic] inevitable association of great people.  But I think his son will understand this and will have no sense of grudge or no sense of being neglected…. He cared in a very different manner, but it takes a lot of time to understand that… He has given us this building, and we feel all the time for him… He has given love for us.  He would not probably give the right kind of love for you, but for us, he has given the people the right kind of love… you have to understand that.  He had an enormous amount of love.   He loved everybody.  To love everybody he sometimes did not see the very closest ones, and that is inevitable for men of his stature. The transcript alone might be easily dismissed as thin justification.  I recommend watching the film, or at least the scene here at YouTube, for full effect.  That scene, and Wares’s deep conviction, haunt me. IV. Literarians Who Embrace Both/And Meanwhile, most of us try to do Good, even as we grapple with Great.  Theologian and Harvard Professor Peter Gomes noted in his book The Good Life that his students were impatient with an either/or conception: One student asked me at the [public service] summit meeting, more in sadness than in anger, “Why can’t Harvard be both great and good at the same time?”…The question is neither peculiar to Cambridge nor to this generation, but in this generation the search for goodness, both institutional and personal, has reappeared as a defining characteristic in young people’s renewed search for the good life. It’s a thread I sense in most writers I know — that if a good amount of our first-fruit time and energy are going to be spent either in solitude or promoting our own work, we want also to make sure we are not atrophying in our human connectedness.  On these last days of 2009, as we all go forth into 2010 with our optimism tainted by the realism of the past year — and perhaps vaguely haunted by the Lou Kahns of the world, great artists at odds with The Good — here are a few inspired/inspiring folks for whom The Great and The Good are on better-than-friendly terms: Rachel Fershleiser, co-editor of the popular Six-Words Memoir series, and senior editor at SMITH, also wears the hat of Director of Events at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, a nonprofit whose ultimate mission is to generate proceeds for nutrition, shelter, housing, health, and employment services — provided by its parent organization Housing Works, Inc. — for homeless New Yorkers who are HIV-positive. I really believe  [the Six-Words Memoirs projects] help people. I've gotten hundreds of emails about contributors reigniting their passion for writing, families brought together in brainstorming each others' memoirs, and even teens claiming they're alive today because the community of friends they found on brought them back from edge… Still when I'm staying in the Marriott Courtyard in Brookline Massachusetts raiding the minifridge and obsessing over why some other author got on The Today Show and I only got on The Early Show, it can all feel a little superficial. Housing Works's mission is essential on a basic level: food, shelter, medicine. The unique position I'm in -- that I can use my skills in organizing cultural events to effect those things (rather than, say, writing sometimes and ladling out soup sometimes) -- makes me feel especially lucky. Mary Ellen Sanger, essayist and poet whose work has appeared in such Mexican publications as Luna Zeta and Zocalo and in the anthology Mexico, a Love Story, was a finalist for the A Room of Her Own (AROHO) Foundation’s Gift of Freedom in 2007, and winner of AROHO’s Fall 2009 Orlando Poetry Prize.  She is currently writing a collection of stories inspired by the women of Ixcotel State Penitentiary in Oaxaca, Mexico, where she spent 33 days and nights falsely imprisoned in the fall of 2003. Mary Ellen leads a writing workshop for Mexican immigrants through New York Writers Coalition and another for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and volunteers as a mentor in the PEN Prison Writing Program.  She writes: I joined NYWC and the PEN as much out of a search for communities that reflected my social interests, as for a selfish desire to be with writers who were not caught up solely in the mechanics of craft and publication. I was into renewal at that point – and preferred communities where the simple rush of creativity was the glue.  My experiences in Mexico brought me close to marginalized communities where I witnessed that “outsiders” are not doomed to a sentence of silence. Both PEN and NYWC facilitate creativity from strong voices that are not always the first to be heard… My work with them…has more than once pulled me through… moments when I wonder why I bother to write at all. And finally, Masha Hamilton is author of four acclaimed novels, most recently 31 Hours, a Washington Post selection for one of the best novels of the year and an Indie Choice pick by independent booksellers.  Hamilton founded two world literacy programs: the Camel Book Drive, begun in 2007 to supply a camel-borne library in northeastern Kenya, and the Afghan Women's Writing Project: …being an active part of the world is something I am passionate about. Each of my novels was torn directly from the world, from the things that scare me and thrill me and make me laugh. For my work to be part of the world, I’ve always thought I need to be part of it too. Of course, everything we do conflicts with our artistic impulses, because the day only has so many hours and the body only so much energy. But even as my active engagement with the outside world takes time, it also feeds my engagement with my inner world, how I understand both myself and what it means to be human. So starting [the Camel Book Drive and the Afghan Women’s Writing Project] has occurred naturally—they have sprung out of what already excites me. My involvement with both projects has been an enormous gift. “Lucky,” “pulled me through,” “gift.” There is the commonality of inner imperative here, the give impulse and the receive impulse bound into one.  Your goodness must have some edge to it, wrote Emerson, – else it is none.  That edge, perhaps, is an understanding — an indulgence — of this two-way engagement. And the world engagement of the artist has, I think, particular power in its passion for seeing and knowing the human condition at its truest and most bare; an artist's compulsion (maybe “selfish” at its core) for authentic meaning coupled with a love for the good can't help but translate into work that addresses the profound basics of human existence, body and soul.  Yeats’s “perfection” and Voltaire’s “le mieux” are perhaps where we get tripped up; to be alive, after all, is to be a work-in-progress.  Who knows how Lou Kahn may have evolved had he lived, what Nathaniel and his mother and his half-siblings may have learned of him, this special love of his, over time: “…but it takes a lot of time to understand that…” [Image credit: Photography Burns]

Bethanne Patrick’s Bottom 10 of 2009

Book Studio's Bethanne Patrick's Top 10 and, perhaps more interestingly, Bottom 10 Books of the Year.  Patrick minces no words on Lethem, Kingsolver, Niffenegger, Moore, and Larsson.
Screening Room

Holiday Film Review: The Road As Incarnation

I’m late to the reviewers party for John Hillcoat’s film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and there’s a reason, which Tom Chiarella described in Esquire Magazine back in June: There is a speed… that the actual movie… does not possess or seek to possess, an urgency that feels manufactured. The music is pulse-pounding and urgent, driven to create absurd expectations of action in a movie that quietly elicits worry about the relative friability of the invisible paths that exist between people and what they need. Chiarella is referring here to the damn trailer, which is terrible and misleading, a Hollywood marketing mistake; presumably a split-the-difference shot (audience #1: readers of the novel, audience #2: non-readers) on the part of studio execs to fill theater seats.  So, however you feel about the existence of the movie or taking the time to see it, don’t let the trailer be a deciding factor. (I wish I’d read Chiarella’s piece sooner.) The Road is not an action movie, either in the post-apocalyptic-thriller or zombie-genre tradition. Neither, in my opinion, is it a heart-warming holiday film about either the heroicism of fatherhood or counting your blessings (i.e. recession/depression paling in comparison to the utter desolation that is The End of Us All). It is not exactly an art film; its fidelity to the novel's plot necessitates a just-in-the-nick-of-time and decidedly aphoristic ending, for one.  So while it might be tempting to anticipate, read, or experience the film in the above ways, all these interpretations seem to me to miss the mark. Some years ago, when I worked in the indie film world, we had a saying that there were two kinds of “good” reviews – the kind that said Run, don’t walk, you must go see this movie and the kind that, well, didn’t.  In the end, my feeling is this: there is nothing much here for the non-reading crowd.  In other words, there are film versions of books that stand alone on their own merits, that evolve as distinct works of art, in some cases surpassing the original literary work; but this film is no Godfather. If the novel moved you, that’s the main reason to see The Road in film version.  (If you didn’t think the novel was perfect, or if it’s not your favorite among McCarthy’s works, and yet still, you were haunted by that desolate, other-worldly, soul-stirring feeling for a long time after putting the book down, this means you, too.)  Hillcoat (The Proposition) and screenwriter Joe Penhall had the unenviable challenge of embodying with specific actors, voices and visual landscape a novel whose great accomplishment is that it infuses disembodied universalism (the nameless Man and Boy; McCarthy’s signature floating, punctuation-less dialogue; unidentified planetary catastrophe) with a miraculous depth of palpable, particularized human emotion and experience—all via (McCarthy’s unmatched) language on the page.  The result is something that perhaps wants for cinematic merit, strictly speaking -- Charlize Theron’s too-frequent presence as the absent wife/mother in flashback, for instance (one of the few marked departures from the novel), seems to accomplish little other than to fill the required feminine quota -- but that ultimately, for me, augmented the experience of the novel.  And The Road is a novel well worth experiencing, in my opinion, in as many ways as possible. The “purity” of literary imagination is in some sense its ability to sidestep the clumsy business of real-life physicality. And hearing abstract, spiritually-laden phrases like “carrying the fire” and  “What if I said that he’s a god” spoken out loud by a ragged Viggo Mortensen is indeed jarring; but not in an all-bad way.  In his gestures, the boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) locates said metaphorical fire in his chest, which allows us to feel it there too—a fuller, body-mind experience—in that moment, and whenever we think of it henceforth; and Robert Duvall’s revelatory performance as The Old Man burned that child-as-god scene, those words—and, ultimately, the theological inquiries of the novel—on my soul much more deeply than on first read. I was also struck by the sheer physical mashing together of these two, ravaged father and alternatingly whimpering and shell-shocked son, throughout the movie, in both love and terror (which are pretty much of a piece in this film)—something you can’t quite imagine or feel sensorily as you read the novel in its estranged, ghostly tones. The narrative shift from literary third-person to voice-over first-person may be similarly unsettling for the devoted reader; but it does personalize The Man—collapses voice into body—which collapses us into his story in a new way.  Consider the difference: He knew only that the child was his warrant.  He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke. All I know is the child is my warrant.  And if he is not the word of God, God never spoke. An incarnation is by definition distinct from a transcription; it is metamorphosis, not replication -- fleshy and earthbound, both more and less alive than the original from which it derives. Problems of representation and debates around accuracy and truth, the relationship between the parent work and its progeny, are bound to flare up; but at the same time, the second generation always does refer back to the first, illuminating if nothing else a fruitful contrast toward fuller understanding. In this sense, for McCarthy readers whose next few weeks will center around memorializing December 25 in particular, perhaps The Road is a perfectly apt choice for a holiday movie.

“Afro Picks” Image & Pun Draws Criticism

The cover image of this week's Publisher's Weekly, which centers around an annual  feature on African American book publishing,  is drawing a lot of attention, mostly negative. Read PW senior news editor Calvin Reid's explanation/mea culpa.

E-book Release Delays

An article in the Wall Street Journal about the third publishing house -- HarperCollins, who joined Simon & Schuster and Hachette --  to delay e-book publication of new (hardcover) titles.  The debate over timing and pricing of new-release e-books (@$9.99) continues.

Virtual Hannah Tinti

The latest in virtual author appearances, an especially useful option for literary venues in the snowy midwest during winter:  Hannah Tinti on Skype (audio and video) in Minneapolis via the Magers & Quinn "Books & Bars" Book Club series.