Links: Gathering Dust

Ann Patchett figures nobody’s read her 1994 novel, Taft.

Cormac McCarthy has won the PEN/Saul Bellow award for lifetime achievement, which should make Michael J. Fox happy.

John Jeter
, author of The Plunder Room, explains why breaking into publishing is a little like his day job of running a music club.

Don’t start an interview with Tobias Wolff by asking about writing process.

Identity Theory’s James Warner avoids a similar kerfuffle in his interview with Yiyun Li, by simply asking what questions she prefers to avoid. This, for once, elicits an interesting reply:

I don’t particularly like to be asked about my views of political situations, both current and historical. As a fiction writer, I believe that what needs to be said about any political situation can not be separated from my fiction, and I feel that I have said enough in my work.

(Though if you write a novel set during late stages of the Cultural Revolution—and The Vagrants is a great book—it’s hard to be surprised that somebody might ask for your thoughts on China today.)

Vladimir Nabokov once wrote down some impressions on the critics who contributed to an issue of TriQuarterly commemorating his 70th birthday—with high praise for scholar Alfred Appel Jr., who died last Sunday. (via Sam Jones)

Independent bookstores around the country are being decimated. Except the ones in Martha’s Vineyard.

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.)

Yiyun Li, Now Screening

Galleys for books coming out in 2009 have begun making the rounds, and I’m curious what the response will be to Yiyun Li‘s The Vagrants, a somber and knotty but very affecting novel about a day in the life of a rural Chinese town during the tail end of Maoism. (“Gold Boy, Emerald Girl,” recently published in the New Yorker, isn’t an excerpt.) Li, a Beijing-born writer now living in Oakland, Calif., has gotten a little more attention lately for A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, Wayne Wang’s recent adaptation of one of her short stories, though it hasn’t done much business at the box office. A companion film also based on a Li short story, The Princess of Nebraska won’t do business at the box office at all. Wang released it on YouTube earlier this month:

Regardless of how much either film earns, the experience of making them at least exposed how Chinese censorship remains alive and well. Over the summer Li wrote an essay in the San Francisco Chronicle about what happened when a Chinese investor wanted a stake in the film version of Prayers:

Not long after I finished the script, Wayne told me that one of the top entertainment companies in China had expressed interest in partially funding the film. Soon preproduction began, and the film was set to shoot in late September. But everything comes with a price. As the shooting date drew near, the Chinese investors politely requested a line of dialogue about the Tiananmen Square protest be taken out of the script. Thinking we could sneak the idea back in a less explicit way, we obliged. But soon another request arrived, and another, asking for more lines to be cut. By the sixth request we decided that, as independent artists, we could not work like this. A week before shooting was to start, the investors withdrew their money. The last line they had asked to be cut: “Communism is a good thing. Only it has fallen into some bad hands.”