Links: Crunching the Numbers

For about another week, the great works of American literature come dirt cheap: The Library of America is having a 50-percent-off sale.

Edgar Lee Masters had it in for Abraham Lincoln (and Carl Sandburg too).

Paul Theroux wore bell bottoms in the 70s.

Mathematician Manil Suri spent seven years working on his second novel, The Age of Shiva—by his accounting, 64.19 words a day.

Bob Hoover finds a few connections between John Updike and William Dean Howells.

One of the better takedowns of a book I’ve seen in a while is Benjamin Alsup‘s assessment (not online, best as I can tell) in Esquire of Philipp Meyer‘s American Rust: “[I]t sounds like an Ivy Leaguer mimicking the speech patters of white working-class people. It’s one part Woody Guthrie, one party All the Pretty Horses, and 98 parts Hillary Clinton.” (I haven’t read it.)

On a more positive note: Newsweek catches up with Yiyun Li, whose debut novel, The Vagrants, is one of my favorite novels of the young year.

(And while I’m playing tipster, Peter Stephan Jungk‘s Crossing the Hudson, out next month, is one of the best contemporary novels I’ve read in quite some time.)

The Twain Shall Meet

At the NEA’s Big Read Blog, David Kipen is doing some interesting musing on how Mark Twain‘s reputation was built, using a piece on The Innocents Abroad by William Dean Howells in the December 1869 issue of Atlantic Monthly as a launchpad. Here Howells keys in on Twain’s sense of humor:

And it is always good-humored humor, too, that he lavishes on his reader, and even in its impudence it is charming; we do not remember where it is indulged at the cost of the weak or helpless side, or where it is insolent, with all its sauciness and irreverence. The standard shams of travel which everybody sees through suffer possibly more than they ought, but not so much as they might; and one readily forgives the harsh treatment of them in consideration of the novel piece of justice done on such a traveller as suffers under the pseudonyme of Grimes. It is impossible also that the quality of humor should not sometimes be strained in the course of so long a narrative; but the wonder is rather in the fact that it is strained so seldom.

In a post published yesterday on the Big Read Blog–it’s dated January 48, 2008, must be some government thing–Kipen fast-forwards a few years to Howells’ piece on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in the May 1876 Atlantic, and Kipen finds some amusement in the critic’s characterization of Twain’s Missouri as the “southwest”:

Still more intriguing is his reference to “the Southwest,” someplace I always thought of as closer to Pike’s Peak than Pike County, Missouri. And then it hit me. To a Brahmin tenderfoot like Howells, 19th-century Missouri was the Southwest, just as Illinois was the Northwest — and wound up with the anachronistically named Northwestern University to prove it.