Monthly Archives: March 2011

Lev Grossman on ‘The Pale King’ by David Foster Wallace

Craig Morgan Teicher -- March 31st, 2011

The Pale King officially comes out on 4/15, but its onsale date was last week, so you can get it now.

One of the big literary events this week is the arrival of David Foster Wallace’s hugely anticipated posthumous novel The Pale King (of which our Jonathan Segura wrote perhaps the first published review), which, though it’s not supposed to go on sale till tax day, is available already at Amazon and B&N.com.

While Segura called the book “A pile of sketches, minor developments, preludes to events that never happen (or only happen in passing, off the page), and get-to-know-your-characters background info that would have been condensed or chopped had Wallace lived to finish it,” adding,  “this isn’t the era-defining monumental work we’ve all been waiting for since Infinite Jest altered the landscape of American fiction.”, Time‘s Lev Grossman, in a fascinating article that’s part review and part history of how the unfinished book was assembled after the author’s death, calls it “Wallace’s finest work as a novelist.”

Here’s a little excerpt from Grossman’s story, which is perhaps most interesting for its insight into how Michael Pietsch of Little, Brown took a duffel bag full of notes and sketches and turned them into a novel:

Nadell called Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little, Brown & Co. and Wallace’s longtime editor. He flew out in January and started reading. As it turned out, there was a lot more than just that neat stack. “They brought me literally bins and drawers and wire baskets,” Pietsch says. “Just heaps of pages. There was no order to them.” He went back to New York City with a duffel bag full of them.

Pietsch spent two years assembling and editing the contents of that duffel bag. The results will be published, appropriately enough, on April 15. If The Pale King isn’t a finished work, it is, at the very least, a remarkable document, by no means a stunt or an attempt to cash in on Wallace’s posthumous fame. Despite its shattered state and its unpromising subject matter, or possibly because of them, The Pale King represents Wallace’s finest work as a novelist.

Are you excited about The Pale King? Will you be grabbing a copy?

The PW Morning Report: Thursday, March 31, 2011

Craig Morgan Teicher -- March 31st, 2011

Today’s links!

‘The Pale King’ Goes On Sale Too Soon: Booksellers are protesting the online sale of David Foster Wallace’s last novel, which Amazon and B&N got before they could get it. From the NYT.

Seeking Stieg: US publishers are gobbling up Scandinavian authors and dispatching them on US book tours. From USA Today.

Book Blames Bill Gates: An upcoming book by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen accuses Bill Gates of having tried to dilute Allen’s stake in the company. From the LA Times.

Evil Agent: A UK agent has been jailed for cheating authors out of lots of money and claiming to have Hollywood connections.

Bad Grammar Leads to Sales: Salon looks at a self-published e-books whose bad grammar ultimately resulted in more sales.

Missing Novelist: Chinese-born Australian novelist Yang Hengjun has been missing in China since Sunday. From the WSJ.

Ancient Books: A cache of ancient books found in Jordan may date back to the beginning of Christianity.  From Fox News.

H.R.F. Keating Dead at 84: The British crime novelist passed away on Sunday in London. From the NYT.

Have Lunch with Google Today

Andrew Richard Albanese -- March 30th, 2011

Wondering what the rejection of the Google Book Settlement might mean? Grab a sandwich and log on at Noon today to hear Copyright Clearance Center’s Christopher Kenneally talk with intellectual property and copyright attorney Lois Wasoff about the implications of last week’s stunning developments in the long-running Google controversy. The webinar is free, but registration is required. Go the CCC’s event web page to register.

The PW Morning Report: Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Craig Morgan Teicher -- March 30th, 2011

Today’s links!

Revolving Door: Laura Miller of Salon contemplates Amanda Hocking, Barry Eisler and e-book self-publishing.

International Booker Finalists: This year’s nominees include 3 US authors: Phillip Roth, Anne Tyler and Marilyn Robinson. From Reuters.

Closing Gateway: Gateway Books of Santa Cruz, CA has just closed its doors.

From Publicist to Publisher: The rise of Cary Goldstein. From the NY Observer.

Love John: A love letter by John Keats sold for 96,000 pounds to the City of London; it’ll be displayed in a museum. From the Guardian.

Radiohead, Saviors of Publishing: Quill & Quire writes up a publicity stunt by the band Radiohead that had people waiting in line for a newspaper.

Those Wavy Words

Craig Morgan Teicher -- March 29th, 2011

In a story published yesterday, the New York Times explains Capthas, those wavy words Web-users have to type in before buying something or subscribing to something.  You may have heard that what you’re actually doing when you type one of those is helping to transcribe unclear digitized text, but you probably didn’t know much about how it worked.  And it turns out this is a service Google is using to verify the texts of scanned Google e-books.  Here’s the NYT‘s explanation (Dr. von Ahn is the guy behind the technolgy):

Page images, particularly those printed before 1900, are loaded with smudges, stains, watermarks and crooked type, all of which give O.C.R.’s the fits. To fix the errors, Dr. von Ahn uses a number of programs, which when applied in the proper sequence magically transform troubled passages into easy-to-read prose.

The first step is done in-house. Two different O.C.R. programs scan the photographic image. Both will make mistakes, but not necessarily the same mistakes.

ReCaptcha flags as “suspicious” any word that is deciphered differently by the two programs or that does not appear in an English dictionary. The dictionary catches words that are misspelled the same way by both O.C.R.’s. Other programs examine the words on either side of the suspect word and make another guess based on that analysis.

Then each suspicious word is turned into a Captcha. It is crucial to understand that the Captcha is a distorted version of the word as printed in the original photographic image. It is not made from the O.C.R.’s imagined translation, which is often unintelligible. The unknown word is then paired with a second Captcha word whose correct translation is already known. This is the “control.”

Several Web users seeking entry to secure sites are then given both words and asked to decipher them separately.

A correct answer for the control word proves that the user is a human and not a machine. Answers for the unknown word are compared with the O.C.R. guesses and the context analysis. If the system is satisfied that the answer is correct, then the game is over.

The PW Morning Report: Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Craig Morgan Teicher -- March 29th, 2011

Today’s links!

Bertelsmann is Up: Due to strong European TV advertising and Stieg Larsson.

Perez Hilton, Children’s Author: The celeb blogger has signed a deal for a children’s book, according to the WSJ.

NookColor Hits 3 Million: Reports have it that B&N has made 3 million NookColors, and sold at least 1 million of them.  From eBookNewser.

Against the NYTBR: One HuffPo blogger things the NYTBR belongs behind the paywall, where no one will find it.

iPad 2 Reviewed: Pocket-Lint has an exhaustive review of the iPad 2.

Apple Digital Library: One strange Apple rumor that’s circulating is the notion that Apple will open a very large store in Jerusalem, which will contain a “digital library,” whatever that is. From TUAW.

Amazon Cloud Storage: Amazon unveiled a new service today allowing consumers to store music files and play them from the cloud. Books could be next. From the Millions.

A Look at the Ampersand Poetry App

Craig Morgan Teicher -- March 28th, 2011

This year’s PW poetry feature, just out today, focuses on poetry e-books.  The big development in that arena is a forthcoming app and storefront called Ampersand, developed by book distribution and production house BookMobile. The video above was produced by BookMobile essentially to show interested publishers what the app would look like and do.  To supplement the feature, we thought we’d show it to you.

Also in this week’s issue, profiles of three poets and one poet-critic, plus a “Why I Write” essay by poet Kathleen Ossip.

The PW Morning Report: March 28, 2011

Craig Morgan Teicher -- March 28th, 2011

Today’s links!

E-books Downunder: The Sydney Morning Herald reports that readers are turning to e-books in response to the Borders Collapse.

London Looks at Us Looking at Them: The Bookseller reports that this year’s London Book Fair will have a stronger US presence than it has in years.

Cookson Goes Digital: The estate of bestselling British author Catherine Cookson has made an exclusive deal with Amazon, bypassing her print publisher, to make her books available digitally. From the Bookseller.

Checking In with Libraries on E-books: the Cleveland Plain Dealer looks at the HarperCollins vs. Libraries issue.

iPad 2 Sells Out: It’s a global phenomenon now: you can’t buy and iPad 2 anywhere on earth because they’re out of stock not only in the US but internationally as well. From the WSJ.

Pop-Up Indie: A pop-up indie bookstore will inhabit the space of a closing Pittsburgh Borders. From Karen the Small Press Librarian

Nox in Box: National Poetry Month is all but upon us, so it’s time to start the rain of poetry coverage. Today, we have a consideration of Anne Carson’s Nox from the Oregonian.

Catch the Wave: Here’s a piece from the Seattle Times on the poetry publisher Wave Books, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary. [Full disclosure: this blogger is quoted in the piece.]

The Art of the Review II: Ron Charles

Parul Sehgal -- March 25th, 2011

Clearly, we can’t get enough of Ron Charles. And can you blame us? Even before his alter ego, the zany Totally Hip Book Video Reviewer, peered up at us through strips of raw bacon, the longtime book critic has been charming, disarming, and educating us every week in the pages of the Washington Post.

The winner of the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Balakian Award (his acceptance speech ought to be required viewing), he’s beloved for his humility and playful prose, for his reviews that, in Scott McLemee’s words, “display a knack for characterizing the shape and style of a book. Charles writes about craft without turning his reviews into manifestos for a single school of it.”

We–the tragically unhip–catch up with Charles and chat about Peter Carey, pornographers, and the virtues of curbing your enthusiasm.

Where did the Totally Hip Video Book Reviewer come from?

I’ve always made short funny videos for my family, and I started toying with doing a new series featuring a character I called the Super Book Critic who imagined that he had superhuman powers (it mainly featured me getting books out of trees). The idea evolved, and my wife and I thought, why don’t we take the review in this week’s paper—it was Mona Simpson’s Hollywood—and film it in three or four minutes? We ran around the house, and I acted it out a bit. I put it up on YouTube and got something like 3000 hits in 24 hrs. The response was incredible. I’d expected to hear from my manager or someone on the 5th floor telling me, “Take this down. You’re embarrassing us!”—or worse. But instead I got a note saying that the Post video team wanted to produce and edit the videos. But that would have been a whole other job, and it would have to be very professional. Instead we’ve kept it as a very casual arrangement. Most weekends, my wife and I make a video and hand it in to my editors on Monday. The audience is not that large—

But we are fervent.

People are being very nice about it.

I especially enjoyed your review of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Speaking of Franzen (what a segue!), with the Franzenfreude episode, increasing attention is finally being paid to how infrequently authors who are women and people of color are reviewed compared to their white, male counterparts. Is this something the Washington Post is trying to address?

It’s a conscious weekly goal. We’re aware that we’re falling short, but we’re working constantly to make our coverage fairer. It’s been more of a challenge in nonfiction, I think. In fiction, there are just so many talented women authors.

Everyone is a critic now—on Amazon, Goodreads, on their blogs. Is this something you find threatening? Is the professional critic’s authority being diminished? Is it a good thing?

It’s not a good thing for my job [laughs], but I do think it’s a great thing that people can communicate about books and reach out to other readers—it’s wonderful to see this kind of enthusiasm. It’s what keeps book culture alive and vibrant. Even if you’re interested in some kind of obscure genre fiction, you can go on Goodreads and meet hundreds, even thousands of people who’ve read the book you have and are looking to chat. As far as the authority of the critic goes, I’m not in that realm. I’m just trying to be a daily newspaper book critic. I’m trying to read books that I hope people might enjoy, and I’m trying to help readers find things worth reading. I’m not setting down the literary theory of the 21st century.

You’re not? Get to it!

Continue reading

The PW Morning Report: Friday, March 25, 2011

Craig Morgan Teicher -- March 25th, 2011

Today’s links!

Sendak Is Back: The author of Where the Wild Things Are has a new book coming, about a partying pig. From the WSJ.

Hocking Signs with Traditional Publisher: Self-publishing phenomenon Amanda Hocking has signed with St. Martin’s. From the Minniapolis Star-Tribune..

Copyediting Harry Potter: The copyeditor who worked on the last three potter books talks about the experience. From the State-Journal Register.

Publishers Wary of Borders: The Detroit News says publishers are now so wary of Borders that they’re becoming an obstacle to its revival.

Elizabeth Taylor Biographies in England: UK publishers are racing to get them out. From the Independant.

Mary Higgins Clark Profiled: The WSJ offers a long piece on the author, who, at 83, still writes at least a book a year.