Edith Wharton‘s birthplace is now a Starbucks.
Jeffrey Eugenides on his novel in progress: “You have to come up with a new song for every book. For now, I’ve got the song for this book. And that’s when it becomes fun. That’s why you don’t want to finish too quickly. Because the part that’s fun comes between the discovery of the song and the singing of the last note.”
Justin Cronin: “I went to Iowa in the ’80s [and] Raymond Carver was the patron saint of all that we did, but I realized that that did not suit me particularly well. What made me want to be a writer in the first place were big, fat, epic stories that you could get yourself completely lost in.”
Northern Illinois University Press recently launched an imprint, Switchgrass Books, dedicated to Midwestern fiction.
A film version of Ha Jin‘s Waiting may soon begin shooting in China.
The Library of America’s new blog looks at fictionalizations of the life of Elizabeth Bishop.
“What I chafe at is this sense that difficult books are most meaningful as an experience when you’ve bested them, outlasted them, pinned them to the ground by enduring them to the bitter end.”
On a not-unrelated note: Celebrating John Barth‘s The Sot-Weed Factor on its 50th anniversary. (I read it as a teenager and stopping about 200 pages in, but I don’t recall why I quit; I vividly recall loving it.)
Watching the World Cup with Aleksandar Hemon.
On the difficult task of editing Mark Twain‘s autobiography: “So we had to edit Clemens’s editing of the editor’s editing…”
A reader realizes that Tom Rachman‘s entertaining book about a floundering English-language newspaper in Rome, The Imperfectionists makes more sense if you treat it as a collection of linked stories and not, as the cover suggests, a novel.
Finally, a list that exposes the silliness of lists.
Elizabeth Strout: “My theory is that most people need to be told what to like because they haven’t been given the confidence from a young age to go ahead with their ideas. Everybody has instincts but they get muted at such a young age. So we get used to being told what to like, what to read, what to think.”
Lionel Shriver claims Edith Wharton as a kindred spirit.
Marilynne Robinson‘s 2009 Terry Lectures on man and religion, which seemed to generate some confusion about what she was on about, will be published next month in the book Absence of Mind. Andrew Sullivan has a quote.
Around for a while, but new to me: A gallery of smartly, provocatively designed book covers from the 1950s to the present. I’m not sure you could get away with that 1969 cover of Kurt Vonnegut‘s Mother Night anymore.
Amy Hempel is the guest editor of the latest issue of the Alaska Quarterly Review, which contains an essay with the intriguing title of “How to Write a Good Sentence: A Manual for Writers Who Know How to Write Correct Sentences.”
On a perhaps related note: Michelle Kerns, who’s doing more than anybody to agitate against book reviewing cliches, is going to start quantifying the problem.
Iguana hunting with Ernest Hemingway.
A visit to Zora Neale Hurston‘s hometown of Eatonville, Florida.
Glenn Beck‘s forthcoming novel imagines America consumed by a civil war. It may not win awards or save publishing, but there’s a good chance it’ll generate a nationwide spike in comment threads full of crazy.
Continuing our ad hoc Wharton Week here: studiously monochromatic Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt made a point of reading Edith Frome annually because “it expresses everything about how horrible New England is.” (via)
Jim Shepard‘s 2007 collection, Like You’d Understand, Anyway, has won the Story Prize.
Interested in reading a novel that’s stuffed with mouse-over ads because the authors have put every word up for sale? Your ship has just come in.
Hillary Jordan‘s Mudbound gets the big push in USA Today.
Charles Bock‘s Beautiful Children gets the big push from its publisher, Random House, which has made the novel free to download as a PDF until Friday at midnight. The Millions rings up publicist Jynne Martin for details. “If it’s good enough for Radiohead it’s good enough for us!” Martin exclaims. Hang on: It was good enough for Radiohead because the band has alternate revenue streams (back catalog, touring) and a fan base willing to kick in a few bucks out of sheer loyalty, two things a debut novelist has in short supply. Even so, this is probably a winner, thanks to the tight download window and the PDF format, which is clunky–you can’t carry it around with you unless you print out the pages (which is slow with PDFs). Anybody who’s seduced by the book online will likely drop money to own it.
In Lenox, Massachusetts, Edith Wharton‘s home (aka the Mount) isn’t having the same luck as Bukowski’s:
This major tourist destination needs to raise $3 million by March 24 or their bank will foreclose on it. That’s because they owe $4.3 million and failed to make last month’s $30,000 mortgage payment. They say rising costs are the culprit.
“These bills include things like maintaining the garden, maintaining the house and the insurance bills, all of which have grown since the restoration,” said Copeland.
You can make donations at the Web site for the house.
Ask Dog Lady, an advice column for dog owners, is asked to settle a question regarding Edith Wharton‘s attitude toward dogs:
I am an English major and, in my American Novel course, we have been reading Edith Wharton’s “Ethan Frome” and “House of Mirth.” I also am a dog lover. When I bought a greeting card with a picture of a dog to send to a friend, I was glad to see it featured a quote from Wharton: “A heartbeat at my feet.” This quote also appears all over the Internet on various dog-devotional blogs.
The more I think of this, the more I wonder whether Wharton was really referring to the dog as a dominated creature of lowly position at her feet. Wharton wrote of the tyrannical forces of money and class. Look at poor Lily Bart, the anti-heroine in “House of Mirth” who basically killed herself because status and wealth eluded her. Bart became a heartbeat at various peoples’ feet. Does this oft-quoted line from Wharton slyly demean dogs?
An expert gets called in to answer.
Writing in the New Atlantis, Cheryl Miller makes a case for Edith Wharton‘s much-maligned 1927 novel, Twilight Sleep, which was one of the inspirations for Brave New World:
Wharton’s critics may have accused her of being detached from modern American life, but she remained a keen, if disapproving, observer of modes and fashions. She stashed away stacks of news clippings and advertisements heralding the newest detergent or latest scientific “breakthrough.” Twilight Sleep is stuffed with these researches, with Pauline sampling every 1920s fad: psychoanalysis, New Age spiritualism, self-help books, consumer science, drugs, plastic surgery, and, of course, eugenics. “America really seemed to have an immediate answer for everything,” Pauline thinks, “from the treatment of the mentally deficient to the elucidation of the profoundest religious mysteries.”