Links: Whatever

“[Stuart Dybek] submitted a story called ‘Thread’ to a literary magazine without the label of fiction or nonfiction. A representative at the publication demanded a classification for the story. He responded with what he calls a ‘shrug of the shoulders,’ and the story went on to be published in Harper’s in 1998.”

Scenes from the ceremony inducting the first class of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.

Matthew Hunte‘s “75 Notes for an Unwritten Essay on Literary Prizes” is essential reading for anybody who wants to understand the peculiar, heartbreaking, often compromised processes involved in celebrating one author ahead of others. The 1996 C-SPAN video of an NBCC panel, linked to from the article, is particularly revealing in terms of how the PEN/Faulkner, NBCC, NBA, and MAN Booker prizes function, or at least functioned at the time. And it’s great to see Paul Fussell in action. (Also: a look back at the disastrous 1980 American Book Awards.)

Susan Straight (intensely) appreciates Toni Morrison‘s Sula.

“O unteachable ass”: Mark Twain responds to an editor.

Adam Ross on making the shortlist for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. (And, from the archives, wondering why bad sex writing is getting picked on when there are so many other forms of bad writing out there.)

“The work of the class of 2010 is also reflective of a certain hard-to-define American malaise. [Joshua] Ferris‘s novel The Unnamed and Rivka Galchen‘s Atmospheric Disturbances are both about mysterious maladies that overcome their protagonists without warning. The subjects of Wells Tower‘s stories are inclined to unexpected outbursts of violence and depression; [Chimamanda Ngozi] Adichie‘s wandering African émigrés are perpetually disappointed by the stifled promise of American life. The stories of 20 Under 40 are similarly weighed down by a creeping unease that seems emblematic of life in the United States today.”

Claim: John Steinbeck‘s Travels With Charley isn’t factually accurate.

Grace Paley: Collected Shorts, a documentary on the writer, screens in D.C. this Sunday as part of the Washington Jewish Film Festival (via). The trailer:

Francine Prose: “It’s very hard when you are writing a novel because you really have to get back into that imaginary world. So unfortunately, sometimes, if I have been away from it for a long time, like two or three weeks, I will actually have to go back to the beginning, to start writing again … just so I can get enough momentum and kind of figure my way back in.”

A quick gloss on why Bonnie Jo Campbell‘s “The Solutions to Ben’s Problem” works.

Walter Mosley: “The biggest misconception that people have about the literary life is the romance of it. That, you know, that a writer has this large world available to him or her of people, of ideas, of experiences, of interchange of ideas; that they don’t understand really, not how isolated the life of that person is because the life of that person is dependent on who they are, but the literary life of that person. How hard it is to get recognized, how hard it is to get people to read your books. How hard it is to get people to even to understand what they’re reading when they’re talking to you about their books.”

A few good books Ruth Franklin didn’t get around to reviewing this year.

Louis Auchincloss wasn’t like Trollope. He was worse.

The Next Paperbacks

Cheryl Reed, a former editor of mine at the Chicago Sun-Times, is the managing editor of TriQuarterly Online, a new, student-run iteration of the venerable print publication. (The change generated plenty of consternation when it was announced last fall.) TriQuarterly 2.0 had its soft launch yesterday*, and among the pieces is an essay she wrote about the experience of reading Bonnie Jo Campbell‘s story collection American Salvage on a Kindle. She has a few thoughtful things to say about the book itself, but it’s this comment that caught my attention:

What is missing in this big publishers’ debate is what electronic books can offer midlist authors, small presses, and even readers who might not be willing to gamble $24 for a hardcover or $14 for a paperback by an unknown author but who might risk $10 to read an electronic version.

Before the argument about charging $15 for electronic books by big publishers, I had started to think of electronic books as the next paperbacks. When I downloaded American Salvage, I knew that if I really liked the book, I’d buy the print original. People who read a lot often wait to buy the paperback version. If they discover a writer they really like, then they acquire the hardcover for their home libraries.

I don’t follow the debate over e-book pricing especially closely, but I’m not convinced even avid readers behave the way Reed suggests. Special-edition hardcovers of books exist to siphon money off of people who first fell in love with a book in paperback, true, and it may be that people who admire certain classics want to own more durable hardcovers of them. (That’s the only justification for the Library of America, come to think of it—you could probably build your own LoA for about 1/1,000th of the cost by trawling used bookstores. It’d be a less attractive collection, though, and probably moldier.) But, lacking any hard data on the matter, I don’t think people do this with contemporary books they just happen to like well enough—at least not in big enough numbers to compel publishers to alter their pricing models in response. At best, the enthusiasm that American Salvage has generated might translate into more purchases of her two other works of fiction, and more people buying her next book in hardcover. That is, assuming that book appears, assuming that book appears in hardcover, and assuming that the e-book environment hasn’t changed yet again by the time that book arrives.

* Cheryl’s a friend, but she didn’t ask me to blog, Tweet, or otherwise promote this.