Links: The Big Tent

The National Book Festival is this Saturday on the National Mall. Enough people have confused me for an expert to ask if I have tips regarding what to do there and how to do it, but my suggestions are all pretty obvious and simple. Bring an umbrella, regardless of what the forecast says; make a point to at least walk through the Pavilion of the States, in which every state has a table plugging its literature (it’s as close at the event will get to promoting small-press books); and get a seat early for the bigger names. (There are probably people already parked for James Patterson.) Lastly, don’t stand in line for those C-SPAN tote bags; C-SPAN brought plenty, and one must preserve one’s dignity. The lineups are largely big names and self-explanatory, but seek out David A. Taylor, who’ll be discussing his history of the WPA Writers’ Project, Soul of a People; I interviewed Taylor for the blog earlier this year.

Marianne Wiggins‘ list of the best works of American fiction.

John Krasinski discussed his film version of Brief Interviews With Hideous Men shortly before David Foster Wallace died.

The Wall Street Journal has an excerpt from Look at the Birdie, a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s unpublished short fiction.

The most powerful influence on David Updike‘s fiction wasn’t his dad—it was Ann Beattie.

The Guardian uses Granta‘s Chicago issue as an opportunity to wonder if the big-city novel is dead.

Mark Twain, animal rights activist.

It’s the 25th anniversary of the New York State Writers Institute at the University of Albany, where Mary Gordon may or may not have tried to slug Norman Mailer in the middle of a panel discussion.

Catherine Corman‘s photography book Daylight Noir: Raymond Chandler’s Imagined City, which has a preface by Jonathan Lethem, sounds fascinating, and it has a stellar Web site to match.

“Sound feminist or something grounds”

The New York Times‘ book blog, Paper Cuts, points to David Updike‘s eulogy for his father, John Updike, at a March tribute at the New York Public Library. David is, pretty much inevitably, an underrated writer, and his new story collection, Old Girlfriends, is worth tracking down. He’s inherited a lot of his dad’s themes but his stories don’t feel like mimickry, as if having that last name freed him instead of overwhelmed him. (The time-pressed might head straight for “Kinds of Love,” in which a man attends church with the woman with whom he’s having an affair.)

The nice thing about the Paper Cuts post is that it also points to a complete transcript [PDF] of the New York Public Library Tribute. The usual kindnesses were voiced by Knopf and New Yorker cohorts like Sonny Mehta, David Remnick, Roger Angell, and others. But Ann Goldstein, who edited Updike’s book reviews for the magazine, provided some of the most interesting commentary—it’s a window into how Updike came off as somebody openly willing to accept editing without having to change a damn thing. Goldstein reads a couple of examples of his reactions to edits:

From 1992: “My criticism inspires me with an increasing impatience. It seems simultaneously timid and reckless, a callow papering over of an invincible ignorance. Toward the end, on galley 12, I wearily brushed your suggested revisions aside, unable to rise to the occasion and finding my own phrasing more succinct and natural.” (laughter)

From 1989: “I noticed that somebody went through and deleted the Miss on I’m sure sound feminist or something grounds. It just seems a little discourteous to an elderly fellow like me to call her ‘Dillard,’ like some androgynous housekeeper or gruff governess. (laughter) The one beginning the paragraph on galley 9 seemed especially curt. It was our way in the days of Shawn to give all living female authors the courtesy of a Miss or Mrs.—Mrs. Spark, Miss Murdoch—but I am happy to go with the new ways if it seems important.”

Editing, for Updike, was “scraping off the fuzzballs”—something dutiful, fussy, perhaps even a little unnecessary (if you’re Updike, anyway). And though he liked the fussing, according to Goldstein he particularly loved it when a piece needed a quick turnaround—as any writer who’s written for a print publication knows, a signal that your copy won’t be mucked with much. “What fun, this sudden shuttle of proofs back and forth,” he’d tell Goldstein in those moments, “as though I live in the real world after all.”