Monthly Archives: August 2011

iPad Killer: Amazon Goes Razor Blades On Tablet Landscape

Gabe Habash -- August 18th, 2011

This October is likely going to be a defining moment for tablets. That’s if, as expected, Amazon drops its tablet into the increasingly crowded fray, which at the moment is only slightly more organized than the Wild West. Many are expecting Amazon to set things straight, eliminating the pretenders and giving us a better idea of what exactly buyers want out of a tablet. But before we get to what might happen, let’s get caught up on what already has happened.

The iPad is the undisputed king of the tablets right now–anyone can tell you that. Most recently, the iPad 2 sold 9.25 million units in the June quarter, a 183% increase from its 2010 June quarter. Those are some impressive numbers, but what’s more significant is the stranglehold Apple currently has on the tablet market: the company is projected to end 2011 with a 61% market share, which translates to 40 million units sold this year.

But, earlier this week, some interesting news surfaced: Android tablets are eating into Apple’s majority share, now taking up 20% of the market. Complicating matters, projections for Apple’s future market share are all over the place. Some experts are saying the iPad will lose some of the market yet remain strong with a 47% share in 2015 (and Android growing to a 39% share). Others are way more optimistic about Apple’s future, going as high as a 60% share in 2020.

What all this means is that no one knows what’s going to happen with the tablet market. But here are two ideas:

1. The “magic number” for tablets seems to be $300. Over the coming months, the closer tablets get to $300, the more clear-cut the field will become as weaker ones will be weeded out, much like what happened with e-readers at the $150 price point (covered here and here). According to a Zogby International poll, customers are decided on what they want out of a tablet: a 10-inch screen (like the iPad’s), a catalogue of readily-available apps, and a cost less than $300 after carrier contracts.

2. The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer is the closest thing to a consensus “Best Android Tablet.” It’s currently listed on Amazon as the #1 bestselling tablet, and much has already been made of  how well it’s doing. It has 16 hours of battery life, a much-touted keyboard dock option, the all-important 10-inch display (which also happens to be gorgeous), and can connect to Playstation and Xbox controllers. But most importantly: it costs less than $400. The only knock on the tablet so far has been its lack of 3G, but that’s not going to be a problem for much longer.

However, back to where we started: Amazon’s highly anticipated tablet, which is projected for an October launch.

The “Coyote” tablet is expected to use a Honeycomb OS, a 9″ screen, and run on the NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor (Amazon’s other, beefier tablet, “Hollywood,” is expected to run on the upcoming Ice Cream Sandwich OS and release later). But the big news is that people are expecting Amazon to get all razor bladey and sell Coyote for $249, with the expectation being that they can sell the tablet for a loss because they’ll easily recoup it (and way, way more) through sales of music, movies, books and cloud storage.

Amazon was positioning its tablet for a monumental clash with the iPad 3 this October–but that all changed this week when news broke that the iPad 3′s fall launch is being derailed until 2012 because of retina display issues. Much has been made about Apple’s efforts to push its display to the cutting edge, and the news of the iPad 3′s delay indicates that when we finally get the iPad 3, it’s probably going to be downright beautiful.

But 2012 is a long way away, and it certainly doesn’t help clear up the muddy picture that is the current tablet marketplace. That’s why it all begins and ends with Amazon. The troops are being readied, and once October rolls around, the market for tablets will probably be a very different place.



PW at the Movies: A Review of ‘One Day’

Rachel Deahl -- August 17th, 2011

I know what you’re thinking: PW stopped going to the movies! It’s a fair assumption-the last time we got all critical on a cinematic literary adaptation was, cough, 2010. But we have been going to the movies…and we’re still as critical as ever. We’ve kept you waiting too long so, without further ado, your favorite book-review-editing-and-news-covering-and-sometime-movie-reviewing duo, Rachel Deahl and Mike Harvkey, give you the skinny on One Day:

Rachel says: I have a love-hate relationship with romantic comedies. Love-hate might not even be the right term—it’s more Jekyll and Hyde. I love a cloying love story as much as the next gal, and I’ll watch drivel in the name of a decent meet-cute, but the bar with romantic comedies has been set so low that most genre offerings these days feel like an affront to female actresses and female viewers. Romantic comedies entered a dark age somewhere in between the time John Cusack ruined teenage girls for all other men in the 1980s as Lloyd Dobbler and Julia Roberts convinced us that hookers really could be carefree and downright buoyant, in the early ‘90s. That Hollywood has issues with women being funny—see the myriad stories about all the producers in Tinseltown who said Bridesmaids would never make a dime because it was headlined by an all-female cast and, gasp, features chicks doing such dude-like things as being sexually aggressive and flat-out gross—is one problem. The other problem seems to be laziness: if audiences already know what’s going to happen (boy meets girl/boy loses girl/boy regains girl) what’s the point of filling the gaps along the way with multi-dimensional characters or, you know, humor?

By the aforementioned standards, One Day, which some people might classify as a romance more than romantic comedy—I say it’s the latter—is a joy. It’s not terribly inventive, the plot device of following a friends-to-lovers couple over the same day for 20 years is particularly forced, but it works. The second feature from Random House Films (after the disappointing 2007 film Reservation Road), One Day, based on David Nicholls’s novel of the same name, shows a surprising amount of humor and depth.

British university classmates Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) have a brush with a potential one-night stand on a boozy night after graduation but, instead, start a decades-long friendship that is always skirting the line between friendship and something more. As their lives diverge but continue to cross—the bookish and self-deprecating Emma blossoms while the womanizing Dexter slips into an indulgent life of drugs and B-list celebrity-dom—the snapshots provide a glimpse into the evolving relationship as well as the changing characters.

Although the structure is contrived, it sets a welcome pace. The jumping-around also offers a bit of relief for some unexpectedly dark, though also pat, episodes involving Dexter’s downward spiral.

Nicholls wrote the screenplay and one of the strongest elements of One Day is that, even at its most expected turns (and there are a few), it maintains an air of legitimacy through above-average dialogue and nuanced characters. One Day also does a fine job of subtly capturing the ‘80s and ‘90s, through a British prism. Director Lone Sherfig, who skillfully evoked the London of the ‘60s in An Education, ably brings us through the years of mix tapes, combat boots and coke without losing sight of her focus: Dexter and Emma.

Mike Says: Being a guy, though not necessarily a dude (or, yet, a man, sadly), I don’t really have a love-hate bond with the rom-com. Basically I ignore the genre entirely until the wheat separates naturally from the chaff and one movie more than all others simply must be seen this fall, spring, etc.—or I go all selfless and suggest to my wife that we see that nice fluffy flick playing around the corner, a flick she may have mentioned in passing, a flick that she will not exit crying at the horrors of humanity, as typically happens when I make selfish cinematic choices, as films like Taxi Driver, Reservoir Dogs, or The Killers are more my speed.

Thus, my take on One Day differs a bit from Rachel’s, though ultimately I agree: it works. Boy, does it work. It’s the Million Dollar Baby of Romantic Comedies; its efficacy simply won’t be denied. Resistance is futile. George Lucas once said, “Drama is easy. Grab a kitten, hold its head in a puddle,” or words to that effect. Love him, hate him, or both, he’s right, and it is this level of drama—and nuance—that One Day achieves. Which is fine. Not everything has to be subtle, deep, profound. The book wasn’t, and Lone Scherfig has captured its spirit in her medium. One Day is a Tragic Romance. A film told in a year at a time can’t capture subtlety; it’s simply not in its DNA. It exists to capture the big events, the major successes, the crushing defeats. Life! Catharsis means “to purge” and One Day is like an emotional Heimlich maneuver.

For me, it’s the details that make One Day break down (though it hardly matters). Why does Lone Scherfig continue to cast Americans to play Brits? In An Education, Peter Sarsgaard could actually speak the Queen’s English without looking like he’d just come from the dentist. He actually did a great job. The same can’t be said for Anne Hathaway, whose accent veers wildly and never seems to settle. And look, there’s Patricia Clarkson, doing it too, and achieving the same level of unease. Scherfig is Danish, not British, and like many outsiders, seems to lack the ear for the subtleties of the English accent. Finally, I simply don’t get Jim Sturgess. Why is he having such a great career? I’ve never seen him in anything where he didn’t appear to be acting. In The Way Back, Ed Harris swept the forest floor with him. He and Hathaway don’t really have much chemistry in One Day, which in any other film would be deadly; in One Day, which is more machine than film, we accept that the chemistry they obviously have is a foregone conclusion. Because it is.

Vintage has 265,000 copies the movie tie-in edition in print, and 400,000 copies of the non-tie-in edition.

Rachel Deahl is senior news editor at PW; Mike Harvkey is deputy reviews editor.

Summer Music: Writers Share Their Stories & Playlists

Gabe Habash -- August 16th, 2011

Summer, that longed-for season of vacation and, well, freedom, is usually associated with mindless fun. This is the time of the blockbuster, the beach read and the pop charts. And, for whatever reason, there seems to be a soundtrack to summer, more than any other season. With that in mind, we asked a handful of writers what summer music means to them.

Sonya Chung

There’s something about summer that, for me, permits (fosters?) a delicious indulgence in sentimentality. I’d love to claim that the reason my heart literally flutters in my chest when I hear Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (1983) has something to do with irony and kitsch and post-35 hipness; but really, it has to do with the way adolescence (a time of great loss and disturbance, which, I believe, pulses beneath our adultness in perpetuity) feeds on music like a puppy on peanut butter.

Speaking of 1983… it’s uncanny – a little spooky – to look back and see the correlation between songs that still make my heart flutter and the end, for many reasons (familial, physiological, intellectual), of pure childhood. If I was an actor trying to muster up emotion – elation, fear, longing, agony – I would wear a concealed earpiece and play (all from 1983), in no particular order: Tyler’s “Eclipse,” Madonna’s “Holiday,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Men at Work’s “Overkill,” Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” the theme from “Flashdance” (Irene Cara), Journey’s “Faithfully,” “We’ve Got Tonight” by Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton, Prince’s “1999,” and “Suddenly Last Summer” by The Motels. And the great thing, the key thing, is that all of these can be belted, in or out of tune, while driving – windows down, sun low on the horizon – on a late-July evening when it feels like summer is both forever and slipping away too fast.

Sonya Chung’s debut novel, Long for This World, was published by Scribner.

Clyde Edgerton

I recently wrote a novel, The Night Train, about, among other things, music and race in a rural 1963 southern community. While writing, I remembered the word “jam” in what had been one of my all-time favorite songs of the 60s, but I couldn’t find the song anywhere. Finally I found it. “The Jam, Part 1” by Bobby Gregg and His Friends. It’s in a collection called “Cameo Parkway 1957 – 1967.” By listening to the song over the last few months, I was able to kind of analyze why I still love it. After about eight measures the beat switches from an emphasis on every beat to the second beat-fourth beat emphasis that’s a hallmark of rhythm and blues music. That transition in “The Jam, Part 1″ is full of energy and excitement. Then after about thirty seconds of a cool guitar groove (back and forth between the one chord, Bflat, and the five chord, F) comes—blasting over the hill—two saxophones on the bridge with tight harmony. The chord progression is simple: 1, 4 (E flat), 2 (C), 5. The song then goes back and forth between guitar and sax solos with that sax duo bridge holding it all together. The energy and unpredictability of the solos and the jazz-like breaks give the tune a spirit that says, “I’m a summer song, put me in your machine, play me, and I’ll make you feel good.”

Clyde Edgerton’s latest novel, The Night Train, was published Little, Brown in July.

Alix Ohlin

I remember this: my sister, gorgeous at seventeen, slathering herself in baby oil and sunbathing on a towel in our backyard in suburban Montreal, with a radio for company. I’d be in my room reading, suffering the twin indignities of glasses and braces, topped off by a general geekdom that ran more than skin-deep. Both of us—her outside, me inside—would be listening to her radio, specifically to Casey Kasem counting down the American Top 40.

The songs of that era make me cringe now, but they are also ingrained in me, word for word and note for note, because I listened to them so closely back then. George Michael tortured with guilt in “Careless Whisper.” Madonna’s voice soaring sweetly in “Crazy for You.” Paul Young, my particular favorite, wailing, “Every time you go away, you take a piece of me with you.” The songs were schmaltzy, swoony, over-dramatic; they were the very definition of popular music, which is exactly why I liked them. Nerdy as I was, listening to the songs was as close as I got to mainstream belonging. Later, as I grew older, I’d gravitate to music that was more obscure, to bands that confirmed my status as outsider and my taste as unique. But at that time, the last thing I wanted was obscurity. I craved the music everybody liked, songs that were widely popular and officially ranked, the soundtrack of perfect American summers.

This was 1985, the year of Kasem’s infamous, profanity-laced “Snuggles” rant, when he complained bitterly about having to read a long-distance dedication to a dead dog right after an uptempo song. Of course his outburst wasn’t aired at the time. When I heard it later, as an adult, I remembered those summers of my early adolescence and wondered what I would have made of it. I think I would have laughed, not in shock but relief. To know that Kasem, so mellow and unflappable, could lose it like that— it would have made me feel like every house in America had a weird kid hiding inside it, eavesdropping on the perfection on the radio.

Alix Ohlin is the author of the short story collection Babylon and Other Stories (Knopf) and the novel The Missing Person (Knopf).

Clancy Martin

Summer was launched, it was a Sunday morning in mid-May, seventy degrees, and Tim Culver (now a prominent Canadian psychiatrist) and I were on a truck-tire inner-tube floating down the Elbow Park river listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall when a beer-drinking pair on a neighboring tube reported the fantastic lie that a volcano had erupted in the United States. The United States, we knew well enough, did not have volcanoes, any more than Canada did, and stoned as we were and thirteen years old we were annoyed by the irresponsible early morning drunkenness of these teenagers on the river. Then in the strangest turn of events, just as “Run Like Hell” came on the boom box, a friend of ours, Sean de Boer, a well known reprobate and all around juvenile delinquent, appeared at a bend of the river with several other metalheads and began shouting: “America’s exploding! Seattle has been wiped out by lava!” and other nonsense of this kind–Tim and I discreetly hid our hash pipe so that they wouldn’t try swimming into the river to ask for a toke–with, and this is the strange part, Molotov cocktails in their hands, which they had been hurling onto the stones of the riverbank but now that a real target presented itself decided to playfully toss at us. We paddled like hell. It is very difficult to paddle a tractor-tire sized tube. I wished Tim’s parents had less money so we weren’t riding in such luxury (only the coolest kids have these giant inner tubes for floating down the river). We hid inside the tube while the bottles splashed into the river–I remember seeing one flying overhead, it’s tail aflame, like a piece of magma shooting from this fictional American eruption–and tried to keep our hash dry and the boombox out of the water. The Wall blasted in the tiny circular rubber amphitheater. We were terrified and then began to laugh, and succeeded in lighting the pipe, and choked on the harsh Mexican red. The Wall has stayed that way for me: the cold water of the mountain river, the onset of summer–which in Calgary, Alberta, takes ten months to arrive and last for ten weeks–, the molotov cocktails, Tim Culver, Sean de Boer, drunken teenagers, beer bottles, and the explosion of Mount St. Helens.

Clancy Martin’s latest novel, How to Sell, was published by FSG.

Jonathan Evison

Come summer, I like to crack a coldie, recline in a lawn chair, and set the old iTunes on shuffle. My musical tastes are dizzyingly eclectic, so today, that sounds likes this: The Saints, 70s punk from downunder–brass-balled, tight, and deliciously irreverent. Less angsty than the Pistols, and more dynamic than the Ramones. Chris Bailey makes the chubby singer hall of fame. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, the kings of western swing–Mexican trumpets and steel guitars, punctuated by Bob’s signature, almost comic, wailing, lest anyone forget whose band this is. Curtis Mayfield, funk pioneer, civil rights activist, and musical prodigy—Mayfield played seven or eight different instruments before a falling light standard paralyzed him from the neck down. Neko Case, haunting, totally unique, and quintessentially northwest songwriter, who is the frequent object of male obsession, present company not excluded. Crack another coldie. Here comes Toots and the Maytals–if the Wailers are the Beatles of reggae, then the Maytals are the Stones, longer lasting, and a little bit sexier. Count Basie. Nobody swings like Basie. Nobody. ‘Nuff said. If The Call of the Wild was a song, that song would be “Fur,” by Portland’s Blitzen Trapper. Next up is Hayes Carll, country music with a little more twitch than twang. Often compared to Steve Earle, though I’m not sure I’d go that far. Betty Wright– four octave range, and more vocal sass than you can shake a stick at. Also makes the beer go down faster. And finally, Michael McDonald—holy crap, what’s this doing on my iTunes! What takes up more musical space, that husky voice of his, or those big meaty Hammond notes? Ech! How is it this guy poops Grammys, anyway? Time to take it off shuffle, and fire up the barbecue.

Jonathan Evison’s latest novel, West of Here, was published by Algonquin.

Sam Lipsyte

I’ve been listening to a bunch of songs this summer. I can’t write to music, but I find that it helps for chores. I have a little mix going for checking my email, or cleaning the kitchen, or mopping the floor because the cat now goes “outside the box” (he would have flourished in corporate America a few years ago). I’ve been listening to some Bill Callahan, particularly his new song “Drover,” and some classics like The Fall’s “My New House” and Devo’s “Gates of Steel.” I’ve also been hooked by the talons of Conversion Party’s release “Birds of Paradise Lost.” One of the players is a former student, a very fine writer, though I didn’t know he was Milton fan. Finally, to cool off by getting the chills, is a song from the late great Gil-Scott Heron called “Me and the Devil.” It’s about a doomed friendship, I guess. It’s truly scary and moving. It’s from a recent album on which he covered a Bill Callahan song. So, it all comes back around. And so will autumn. But the cat must go.

Sam Lipsyte’s latest novel, The Ask, was published by FSG.

Duane Swierczynski

This better part of this summer was spent driving across his big ol’ country, from Philadelphia to L.A. and back again, so music was essential to my sanity. I pre-loaded my iPhone with the usual suspects… but while in L.A., I also downloaded three new albums that kept me company during crazy snarls on the 405:

Join Us, They Might Be Giants: I’ve been a worshipper at the altar of the Johns (Messrs. Linnell and Flansburgh) for over two decades now, and this new one is easily my favorite since 2001’s Mink Car. It’s just as brilliant and bizarre as their earliest albums, and just try to stay stressed-out in deadlocked traffic when you’re listening to lyrics like, “Felines and dames, in flames, will hardly serve your aims.” Favorite track: a toss-up between the soaring “Canajoharie” and the gleefully vengeful “When Will You Die.”

Laura, Diego Garcia: A dear friend turned me on to this swoontastic collection of Latin-tinged ballads (yep, we’re talking strings and Spanish guitars, folks) that would ordinarily get me kicked right out of the Hardboiled Club for Men… except that the emotions in these songs run raw and deep enough to reduce the toughest of bastards to bitter, boozy tears. Favorite track: the achingly honest “Nothing to Hide.”

Passive Me Aggressive You, The Naked and Famous: I was driving down Ventura Boulevard when a KROC DJ was gushing about a song called “Young Blood,” how he blasted it relentlessly on his way to work. Then he played it, and BAM, a few minutes later I was pulling off to the side of the road to download the damned thing… and later, the rest of this Auckland indie rock band’s debut. Favorite track: the infectious “Young Blood,” obviously, but also the peppy and feverish “Punching in a Dream.”

Duane Swierczynski’s Fun & Games came out in June 2011. He has two forthcoming books: Hell & Gone (October 2011) and Point & Shoot (March 2012).

Tolstoy’s Mercury Crater: Six Strange Things Named After Writers

Gabe Habash -- August 15th, 2011

Writers have long been honored by having boring things like schools named after them but, every now and then, something odd is named after a writer. Take, for example, the genus of butterflies bearing the moniker of avid lepidopterist/part-time writer Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov isn’t the only author who has inspired adoration from unexpected sources, either. So sit back and enjoy an Oh Henry! bar along with these bizarre things named after scribes:

1. The New Jersey Turnpike has rest areas named after Walt Whitman, James Fenimore Cooper and Joyce Kilmer. All three writers have strong connections to the Garden State, but last year there was talk of possibly selling the naming rights to the stops in order to help the state’s budget.

2. Stendhal, the French realist behind The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma, has a syndrome named after him. Stendhal Syndrome is an illness that’s caused when an individual is exposed to art, particularly if the art is overwhelmingly beautiful. Symptoms include rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and hallucinations. The origin of the ailment’s name is linked to Stendhal’s experiences taking in Florentine art which, as cited by psychiatrist Graziella Magherini, quite commonly causes dizziness in tourists visiting the Italian city. Stendhal Syndrome can also be applied to a situation in which the individual is “confronted with the immense beauty of the natural world,” which is why things like this happen.

3. Livyatan melvillei is an extinct species of whale named after Herman Melville. Discovered in Peru in 2010, researchers who were fans of Moby-Dick found the fossilized remains of a whale skull that resembled that of a sperm whale with one big difference: it had huge, terrible teeth. Melvillei (which were over 50 feet long), apparently, were top predators back in their day, along with the megalodon. Whereas the sperm whale is pretty docile, it’s speculated that Melvillei preferred to eat dolphins, other whales and sharks. Watch a video on Melville’s whale here.

4. Rudyard Kipling has two towns, 100 miles apart, named after him in the upper peninsula of Michigan. The odd bit is that Kipling never set foot in either town. In the 1890s, a fan of Kipling’s named Frederick D. Underwood, an executive with the Soo Line Railroad, decided to name two towns on his railroad line after the writer. Upon hearing about the two towns bearing his name, Kipling wrote to Underwood, asking for a photograph, saying, “I shall take a deep interest in their little welfares.” Today, Rudyard, Mich., and Kipling, Mich., claim a few hundred residents each.

5. Daisya obriani is a species of Lesser Weevil named after Patrick O’Brian, best known for his Aubrey-Maturin series. Many of the books have references to these bugs, including this exchange:

Two weevils crept from the crumbs. “You see those weevils, Stephen?” said Jack solemnly.
“I do.”
“Which would you choose?’
“There is not a scrap of difference. Arcades ambo. They are the same species of curculio, and there is nothing to choose between them.”
“But suppose you had to choose?”
“Then I should choose the right-hand weevil; it has a perceptible advantage in both length and breadth.”
“There I have you,” cried Jack. “You are bit – you are completely dished. Don’t you know that in the Navy you must always choose the lesser of two weevils? Oh ha, ha, ha, ha!”

6. A look at the list of Mercury’s craters will reveal that the following writers have big holes named after them on the planet: Honoré de Balzac, Giovanni Boccaccio, The Brontë family, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Italo Calvino, Miguel de Cervantes, Anton Chekhov, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Dickens, John Donne, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Homer, Horace, Victor Hugo, Henrik Ibsen, John Keats, Rudyard Kipling, Mikhail Lermontov, Li Bai, Herman Melville, Pablo Neruda, Ovid, Petrarch, Edgar Allen Poe, Marcel Proust, Alexander Pushkin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Arthur Rimbaud, William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sophocles, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, William Butler Yeats, and Emile Zola.


2011 PEN Literary Awards Winners

Gabe Habash -- August 12th, 2011

The PEN American Center announced the winners of this year’s PEN Awards, the 89th the organization has handed out. Of the 17 award categories, three are offered for the first time and one–the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay–returns after a five-year hiatus.

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize (Fiction):

Susanna Daniel, Stiltsville

Danielle Evans, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self

Runner-up: Teddy Wayne, Kapitoil

PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award (Literary nonfiction with a science subject):

Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of Maladies

Runner-up: David Abram, Becoming Animal

PEN/W.G. Sebald Award for a Fiction Writer in Mid-Career (winner must have published at least three works):

Aleksandar Hemon

PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction (presented biennially):

Robert Perkinson, Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire

Runner-up: John W. Dower, Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor / Hiroshima / 9-11 / Iraq

Runner-up: Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns

PEN/Laura Pels Foundation Awards for an American Playwright in Mid-Career and a Master American Dramatist:

American Playwright in Mid-Career: Marcus Gardley

Master American Dramatist: David Henry Hwang

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay:

Mark Slouka, Essays from the Nick of Time: Reflections and Refutations

Runner-up: Elif Batuman, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them

Runner-up: Alex Ross, Listen to This

PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing:

George Dohrmann, Play Their Hearts Out

PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing:

Roger Angell

PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography:

Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra: A Life

Runner-up: Wendy Moffat, A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E.M. Forster

Runner-up: Justin Spring, Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward

PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry:

Ishion Hutchinson, Far District

PEN/Nora Magid Award (Magazine Editor):

Brigid Hughes, founding editor of A Public Space

PEN/Open Book Award (Work of literature by an author of color):

Manu Joseph, Serious Men

Runner-up: John Murillo, Up Jump the Boogie

PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship (Children’s or young adult fiction, who has published at least two books, and for whom monetary support is particularly needed to complete a book-in-progress):

Lucy Frank, Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling

PEN Award for Poetry in Translation:

Khaled Mattawa, Adonis: Selected Poems

Runner-up: Jonathan Galassi, Canti by Giacomo Leopardi

Runner-up: Michael Hofmann, Angina Days by Gunter Eich

Runner-up: Charles Simic, Oranges and Snow by Milan Djordjević

PEN Translation Prize

Ibrahim Muhawi, Journal of an Ordinary Grief by Mahmoud Darwish

Runner-up: David Bellos, Hocus Pocus by Romain Gary, publishing as Émile Ajar

Runner-up: Malcolm C. Lyons with Ursula Lyons, The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights

PEN Translation Fund Grants (to support translation of book-length works):

Amiri Ayanna, The St. Katharinental Sister Book: Lives of the Sisters of the Dominican Convent at Diessenhofen (from Middle High German)

Neil Blackadder, The Test (Good Simon Korach), a play by Swiss dramatist and novelist Lukas Bärfuss (from German)

Clarissa Botsford, Sworn Virgin, a novel by Albanian writer and filmmaker Elvira Dones (from Italian)

Steve Bradbury, Salsa, a collection of poems by Taiwanese poet Hsia Yü (from Chinese)

Annmarie S. Drury, collection of poems by Tanzanian poet Euphrase Kezilahabi (from Swahili)

Diane Nemec Ignashev, Paranoia, a novel by Belarusian author Viktor Martinovich (from Russian)

Chenxin Jiang, Memories of the Cowshed, a memoir by Chinese author Ji Xianlin (from Chinese)

Hilary B. Kaplan, Rilke Shake, a collection of poetry by Brazilian writer Angélica Freitas (from Portuguese)

Catherine Schelbert, Flametti, or the Dandyism of the Poor, a novel by German writer Hugo Ball (from German)

Joel Streicker, Birds in the Mouth, a collection of short stories by Argentine writer Samanta Schweblin (from Spanish)

Sarah L. Thomas, Turnaround, a literary thriller by Spanish writer Mar Goméz Glez (from Spanish)

PEN Emerging Writers Award:

Fiction Winner: Smith Henderson (nominated by Hannah Tinti of One Story)

Fiction Runner-up: Elliott Holt (nominated by Joel Whitney of Guernica)

Nonfiction Winner: David Stuart MacLean (nominated by Ladette Randolph of Ploughshares)

Nonfiction Runner-up:Chester Phillips (nominated by Hattie Fletcher of Creative Nonfiction

Poetry Winner: Adam Day (nominated by Erica Wright of Guernica)

Poetry Runner-up: Brett Fletcher Lauer (nominated by Robert Casper of jubilat)


More Hilarious Amazon Customer Reviews

Gabe Habash -- August 11th, 2011

Last month, we ran an article highlighting the funniest Amazon customer reviews, and the response was so great that we thought we’d bring the feature back for more. Because, as you know, there are a whole lot of awful products on Amazon, and someone’s gotta do the dirty work of reviewing them. It’s time we give these intrepid critics their due recognition.


You Can Teach Your Dog to Eliminate on Command by M.L. Smith:



Smith and Stybbard have written a gem in this book. It’s certainly helped me to take control of my dog’s idiosyncratic toilet habits. My pug Grendel now dances to my tune, be it on walks, in the garden or merely impressing friends and family. A word of caution – take care when choosing your “command words” and “smart phrases” to avoid words your dog is likely to hear on the television. It took 4 episodes of Ali McBeal before I realized that my “full evacuation” command was in the theme song.


In the Breath of a Moment: A Collection of Short Tales by Andrew Kieniksman:


By T.M. Hastings “Nose Sticks”:

At least my copy was. When I started reading this, I skipped the foreword, and went straight to “La Danse de Mortes.” I started reading the first page. Flipping over to the second page, and I looked up to discover that I was no longer sitting in my recliner, but perched precariously on the edge of a cliff out in the middle of the Ishi Wilderness. I looked over to my left, and a large brown bear was staring me in the eyes. I looked to my right, and three cub’s no older than 8 month’s were sitting less than 5 feet away from me.

Frantically I started reading the book again, only to get it swatted from my hand as the bear swiped at me, removing three of the fingers from my left hand. I was mauled within an inch of my life, and I imagine that my right leg is digesting pretty well inside the bear’s stomach right now.

Thank God I was found two days later by some backpackers who were passing through. But I still lost one of my eyes, and most of my scalp and my face. Along with half my right arm, left hand, and my right leg. Oh, and I am also Asexual now, as nothing is left down there.

I imagine the book is still down at the bottom of the cliff with my left hand.

The lawsuit against Andrew Keiniksman was thrown out due to insufficient evidence and incompetency, as I am now legally mute and deaf, as well as legally insane.

This review took me 3 days to write with a chopstick in what’s left of my nose, on a computer in the lobby of the asylum.


Anybody Can Be Cool…But Awesome Takes Practice by Lorraine Peterson:

My journey from being cool to awesome

By Aaron T. Bagby:

For years, I struggled with meager coolness until I read this book. Now with my new-found knowledge and my “I am awesome” shirt, all the ladies want to get with me. It may look like they’re just laughing and pointing, but I know that they truly find me irresistible. Since I’ve modeled my hair and clothes from the book cover, everyone thinks I’m Zack from Saved by the Bell. It just doesn’t get anymore awesome than that. Oh yeah.


English Grammar for Dummies by Geraldine Woods:

is the best book!

By Nikolai Krestinsky:

When i first come to America, my english did cause me problems. In Soviet Russia i was strong teacher, my english i know is the best in all of Petropavlovsk. My brother, Mikhail, he say to me, “Nikolai you go to America, they make you rich like czar, take many woman as lover, kill many bear”. My brother, he is very wise, is greatest toymaker in all of Russia. So next day i wake up, sell my house, say goodbye to wife and children, and go to America to become millionaire. Then in America, I go to job interview and they say to me “Nikolai, you are not for the job here, you are not the skills we need, your english is poor like child”. I take that man and smash his table, i say “someday i will be greatest man in all of country, your children will wish me their father!”. That day my anger is best of me. It is then i know i must learn better english, so i buy book “English Grammer it is for Dummies” by Mr.Woods. Now i am perfect english grammer! I write letter to Mikhail, he write back “Nikolai, your english is like a god, you will be millionaire soon! all of Petropavlovsk is proud for you! good luck brother! please send letter when you are president or maybe even czar! Hahaha! also, your wife is killed by bear”. So i say thanks to Mr.Woods for his book! When i am czar your family will be spared! Hahahaha! (is joke).


Hookers or Cake by Jade Bos:

An historical triumph!

By Catherine Swinford:

We all know of Patrick Henry’s favorite quote, “Give me liberty or give me death!” But not so well known was his cousin, Henry Patrick, who belonged to Overeaters Anonymous and subscribed to the belief that it is easier to ween oneself off one addiction by turning to another as a distraction. Appalled by OA’s refusal to consider his theory as part of an alternate program he stood and gave a rousing speech to his fellow OA attendees, a speech that concluded with the more obscure line (some say his cousin would later borrow it to coin his own) “Give me hookers or give me cake!”

The only way this book could be more patriotic would be to mention Rush Limbaugh – and it does!


Dover Parkersburg 610 Galvanized Metal Water Bucket (2-Gallon) (this isn’t a book, but we wanted to share the review anyway):

This Bucket Changed My Life!!!

By Ari Brouillette

The highly versatile Dover Parkerburg 610 2- Gallon Galvanized Metal Water Bucket was recommended to me by my neighbor Jim Anchower. Jim is something of an amateur consumer products testing buff and assured me that when it came to galvanized buckets the Dover Parkersburg reigns supreme! Jim had previously turned me on to the the Swiffer WetJet Mop Total Cleaning System and the Hoover Quik-Broom S2561 so I knew he wouldn’t [mess] around when it came to my metal bucket needs.

At first glance the Dover Parkerburg 610 is clearly a step above the competition, the smooth galvanized exterior is indicative of the more modern electrocoat process which produces much less surface bubbling and insures a uniform surface. Jagged Edges? Not on this baby! Also of note are the two horizontal ripples which are placed 6 inches from the base. A simple structural analysis and crush test showed the slight corragative additions to be more than simple decorations, they actually produce an increase in tensile strength of 35.8% when compared to smooth walled galvanized buckets of the same carrying capacity.

Although I have used the Dover Parkerburg less since installing our new fangled “Water Closet”, I display it with pride, knowing that I own the best 2 gallon galvanized bucket in town.



Amazon vs. Apple: The Battle Escalates

Gabe Habash -- August 10th, 2011

In the latest chapter of Amazon vs. Apple–which is increasingly starting to resemble a popularity contest between the two prettiest girls in school–two separate stories broke today: both are good for Amazon and both are very bad for Apple.

The first story is Amazon’s announcement of its Kindle Cloud Reader, an HTML5 reader that bypasses Apple’s iOS guidelines prohibiting the use of links–and their 30% cut on all sales. The Cloud Reader allows users to purchase and access Kindle titles through their browsers rather than through apps, and gives Amazon the ability to set up a Kindle storefront through an iPad’s browser without having to pay Apple a cent for purchases.

The second story, which is a loss for Apple (and thus a gain for Amazon), is the class action lawsuit filed today in California claiming that Apple colluded with Hachette, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Macmillan to fix prices on e-books. The suit alleges that this all happened back in early 2010, as Apple was readying the iPad for the digital books marketplace, and neither the publishers nor Apple were willing to accept the low margins Amazon’s $9.99 e-book pricing was forcing on them.

“Fortunately for the publishers, they had a co-conspirator as terrified as they were over Amazon’s popularity and pricing structure, and that was Apple,” Steve Berman, an attorney representing consumers in the case, said in an e-mailed statement.

In one day, Apple has been thrown into the spotlight as a frightened player in the digital books market while a major hole has been punched in  their iOS’s restrictive guidelines through circumnavigation. The impending iPhone 5 and iPad 3 announcement can’t get here soon enough.

But, at least for this week, we can safely chalk up a victory for Amazon.


6 Writers Who Never Knew How Famous They’d Be

Gabe Habash -- August 9th, 2011

Most writers are blessed with the pleasure of knowing that their work has touched a few souls and made at least a small difference in readers’ lives. But a few writers are denied even this not insignificant feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, and a few of these writers happen to be massively successful. It just so happens that their success happened when they weren’t around.

Here are 6 writers who made their mark after their death:

1. John Kennedy Toole killed himself in 1969 at the age of 31. His mother, deeply depressed, took her son’s finished manuscript from his desk and began sending it out to publishers. The rejections came in for five years. Finally, Mrs. Toole heard that Walker Percy was on the faculty at Loyola University New Orleans, and she began a relentless campaign to get him the manuscript. Percy, out of exhaustion, finally agreed to read it. And not only did he read it, he realized it was a great book. A Confederacy of Dunces was first published a few years later, in 1980.

2. Franz Kafka only published shorter works during his lifetime, most notably The Metamorphosis. Kafka famously told his friend and literary executor Max Brod to burn all of his works upon his death. Brod ignored the request and proceeded to do a massive favor for the literary world. The Trial, Amerika, and The Castle were the three novels published posthumously, the latter ending with the following hacked-off sentence:

She held out her trembling hand to K. and had him sit down beside her, she spoke with great difficulty, it was difficult to understand her, but what she said

3. W.G. Sebald was respected during his lifetime, his accomplishments including becoming the founding director of the British Centre for Literary Translation and being appointed chair of European literature at the University of East Anglia. But it was only after a tragic car accident took his life in 2001 that his books found their audience. In 2007, a representative of the Nobel Prize stated Sebald could have been a possible future winner of the prize.

4. Emily Dickinson spent her later years secluded from society–years that also happened to be the most productive for her writing. She died in 1886, making her sister Lavinia promise to burn her work. Less than a dozen of Dickinson’s poems were published during her lifetime, but her collection of over 1,800 poems that Lavinia found following Emily’s death started to be published in 1890, when her first volume released.

5. Sylvia Plath‘s most successful publication during her lifetime was her first collection of poetry, The Colossus and Other Poems. Her best-known work, The Bell Jar, also came out when Plath was alive, but it was only one month before her suicide. Her fame started in 1965, however, when her second book of poetry, Ariel, was published and studied closely, at least partially because of its connection to her famous death. In 1982, she became the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously.

6. Mikhail Bulgakov was a renowned playwright (Stalin was among his fans), but his masterpiece, The Master and Margarita, wasn’t published until 1966, 26 years after his death. He spent the last decade of his life working on it, but a number of his plans were ultimately not fulfilled when he died. Nevertheless, his legacy lives on: an asteroid belt called 3469 Bulgakov was named after him in 1982.

Have any other authors that took off posthumously? Let us know in the comments!



Just How Much Space Has Borders Opened Up?

Gabe Habash -- August 8th, 2011

In the last round of Borders’s store closings late last month, the chain shut the doors on 400 stores and had to get rid of $431 million worth of inventory. But what’s perhaps even more interesting about all these stores being vacated–and what’s sometimes lost in the discussion in favor of the whole “Print Books/Bookstores Are Dying!” lamentation–is that a lot of real estate just opened up. 6.8 million square feet, to be exact.

6.8 million square feet is the equivalent of 118 football fields, 123 White Houses, or 8 Buckingham Palaces.

Or, if you’re a big landowner, here’s a 156 acre tract of land in Wythe County, Virginia that’s the exact same amount of land that Borders has just freed up. The Virginia property will only set you back $700,000!

So, what to do with all this land? In a blog post last month, we entertained the idea that Pop-up bookstores could fill some of the stores, at least temporarily. And Books-A-Million, who didn’t pull its bid to take over the inventory and leases of 30 Borders stores until late in the chain’s liquidation process, is certainly being proactive about Borders’s store vacation: last week, three Borders stores (Bridgeport, WV; Erie, PA; Concord, NC)  were filled by Books-A-Million. Other possible occupants for the empty bookstores are the clothing store H&M and the Maine-based retail entertainment chain Bull Moose. And finally, in Tennessee, Vanderbilt’s bookstore (which is operated by Barnes & Noble) moved into a former Borders location.

Vonnegut Sold Saabs: 11 Author Day Jobs

Gabe Habash -- August 5th, 2011

We all have that same romanticized image of The Writer: sitting alone, hunched over his/her desk, pen in hand, thinking deeply about Writing before putting the pen to the page and Writing. But, unfortunately, doing this for long stretches of time doesn’t pay the bills, and that’s why things like Sylvia Plath working as a receptionist in the psychiatric unit at Massachusetts General Hospital happen. Writers are normal people, too. Just how normal? Here’s a few of our favorite writer day job finds:

1. John Steinbeck was a caretaker and tour guide at a fish hatchery in Lake Tahoe, where he worked on his first novel and also met his future first wife, Carol Henning. She was a tourist on one of his tours.

2. Douglas Adams first thought of the idea for A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy while moonlighting as a hotel security guard in London.

3. Jeanette Winterson, in addition to driving an ice cream truck, was a make-up artist at a funeral parlor.

4. Dashiell Hammett was hired by the Pinkerton Detective Agency as an “operative” at age 21. His job description included staking out houses and trailing suspects. He was thankful for the work; his previous job had been a nail machine operator.

5. Robert Frost changed light bulb filaments in a factory in Massachusetts shortly before he sold his first poem, “My Butterfly: An Elegy” in 1894 for $15.

6. Kurt Vonnegut was the manager of a Saab dealership in Cape Cod, after he’d already published his first novel, Player Piano. The dealership was supposedly Saab’s first in America.

7. Jack London was an “oyster pirate.” At night, he would raid the oyster beds of big-time oyster farmers and sell them in the Oakland markets.

8. Jean Rhys, a 23-year-old and in need of money, posed nude for a British artist.

9. James Ellroy led a life of petty crime and shoplifting as a wayward youth, most likely as a response to his confusion following his mother’s unsolved murder.

10. Harper Lee struggled when she first moved to New York at age 23, working as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines before befriending Broadway composer Michael Martin Brown. In 1956, Brown gave Lee a Christmas present: a year’s wages so she could devote herself full-time to her craft. During this time, she began work on what would eventually become To Kill a Mockingbird.

11. Ken Kesey, in order to earn some extra cash, was a guinea pig for the psych department at Stanford in a CIA-sponsored drug experiment. As a result of the drugs, Kesey had hallucinations of an Indian sweeping the floors, which compelled him to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Which mundane (or strange) day jobs for writers have we missed? Let us know in the comments below!