Category Archives: News

Jonah Lehrer is a Dull, Inept Sloth

Everybody’s piling on Jonah Lehrer right now. The thrice-published boy wonder first faced scrutiny for his rather unethical habit of self-plagiarism. And yesterday he pooped his pants on the national stage, copping to some using some combination of “unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes” attributed to part-time homeless man Bob Dylan in the first chapter of his latest, Imagine: How Creativity Works.

The piling on is totally appropriate, and really should have happened weeks ago when he was first found out for recycling so much content. Some defended him then, blaming the fact that the current journalistic world favors quantity over quality. I agree that this shift in priority is ultimately harmful and results in a lot of shoddy pieces, but disagree that this had much or anything to do with Lehrer. I don’t view him as a journalist—though he did write some not-that-bad pieces for The New Yorker earlier this year—so much as someone who poses (or posed, now that his career is effectively over) counter-intuitive questions, half-answered them, asked some more questions, cited someone from Princeton, and cashed a decent-sized check. (I’m kicking myself over failing to remember who had a great line—Josh Levin at Slate?—about the fact that Lehrer’s fall from grace is welcome to many because, well, he’s kind of a hack, and the comparisons to Malcom Gladwell were decidedly not flattering.)  Continue reading

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Our August Review Previewganza

Who likes August? For real. It’s hot all the time—so hot that cheese will melt in your fridge and your skin will stick to your subway seat. There are no paid holidays at any workplace in America. Severe thunderstorms go on vacation. The White Sox go into their annual tailspin. It’s a horrible time to be alive.

And by way of the Internet’s powers of inquisition, I found a handy-dandy guide to those awful thirty days, courtesy of that venerable American institution Holidayinsights.com. According to the good people at HI—especially my man “Dirty Dozen” Dave Poluyanskis in content creation, what up boyyyy!?—August is the following official (read: not official) months (listed in descending order of huh): National Catfish Month (delicious), National Eye Exam Month (I’ve had 20/20 my whole life; stop extorting me), National Golf Month (all right, whatever), National Picnic Month (sweaty potato salad), Peach Month (Earth’s worst fruit, but I can see it), Water Quality Month (WHERE IS THE CONCERN IN OCTOBER?!), Family Fun Month (…), Romance Awareness Month (cue twenty-four-hour loop of MTV’s “Undressed”), and my personal favorite: Admit You’re Happy Month (you love that sweater, faker).

So to keep you from participating in America’s annual mass suicide—the 2012 iteration being Friday August 24 at Danville’s David S. Palmer Arena—DBC’s going to roll out a whole bunch of reviews. Continue reading

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Diverging Views on Twitter Fiction

Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box,” serialized by The New Yorker on Twitter, is causing something of a stir. “Black Box,” which is written in 140-character segments, is a spy story—a genre suited for serialization, however minute. It’s a clever fusion of the magazine’s print presence and social media, a rare display of technological savvy from a mainstream powerhouse.

But what are the implications for fiction? Is Egan’s serialized story a clever one-time thing—just in time for the magazine’s first science-fiction issue, even—or does it point toward the future of fiction?

Twitter fiction is nothing new, having been a pretty insular sort of genre since the social media tool’s inception. And short-short fiction (or flash fiction, napkin fiction, etc.) is nothing new either. The difference here is that Egan’s story is quite long—8,500 words—and each segment was specifically designed to conform to Twitter’s 140-character limit. So it’s a strange marriage, as Sarah Crown already pointed out at The Guardian. Continue reading

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Upcoming Reviews

It’s been a fairly quiet March around here, as we’ve been preparing for a stream of reviews to come in the first weeks of spring. Here’s a taste.

March 27: Amara Lakhous’s Divorce Islamic Style
The Algerian-Italian Lakhous’s second novel makes its American debut at month’s end, courtesy of Europa Editions. Written with equal parts frenzy and poise, Divorce Islamic Style examines multiculturalism through a refreshing lens.

March 27: Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism
What is the greatest challenge for American Jews going forward? In Crisis of Zionism, which is already generating fulsome praise and harsh criticism, Beinart posits that it is the preservation of liberal Zionism, both in the United States and Israel. Beinart’s scope of research and credibility is an asset in this dissection of the (increasingly young) Israeli right, and their decidedly liberal co-religionists in America.

 

 

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Passing Some Stuff Along

Courtesy of the Financial Times, a very thoughtful essay on American fiction and its relationship with sport. While he eventually focuses on Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fieldinga debut we received well—Jason Cowley covers a bevy of recent American classics, from Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest to John Updike’s Rabbit series.

The Art of Fielding is once again in the media focus, getting its UK pub this week. If you’re wondering how British outlets would receive a book about baseball—which I was and kind of still am—the Financial Times’ review is an indication that it’s a bit puzzling, the FT turning to former Major League Baseball shortstop Ron Darling for a test-of-authenticity sort of review, a write-up that seems focused on how much Harbach nails the baseball experience; artfulness not being Darling’s concern, naturally.

Other British reviewers, however, seem captivated by the book itself, not concerned with the fact that it’s about a game that has no footing in their culture. Nat Segnit, writing for The Independent:

As Affenlight jokes to Owen, reading is “a dangerous pastime”, inimical at some level to the cognitive blank of true sporting genius. At its best, when its pattern-making responds more organically to the characters’ realities, The Art of Fielding is very good indeed. In an early, game, we learn that the Harpooners’ “aged scoreboard” is missing a letter: “WESTISH 6 VI ITOR 2”. Four hundred pages later, when the Harpooners are competing against swanky Amherst in the nationals, it’s noted that one of the opposing team’s cheerleaders has failed to show up, so that their “oversize purple T-shirts… spelled out A-M-H-E-R-T in white letters.” Again, the missing S, for Skrimshander, the Harpooners’ absent hero: it’s a lovely, subtle, moving touch.

Another batch of Art of Fielding reviews means more opportunities for newspapers to run clumsy baseball metaphors in the subheads, The Telegraph calling it a “home run” and the FT referring to it as “pitch perfect.” Well done, chaps.

In other news, we’ll be posting a review of Katherine Stewart’s forthcoming The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children on Tuesday. Don’t worry, we’re not getting too political.

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The Best of the “Best of” Lists

I don’t know about you, but I get entirely sick of “Best Books of 2011” lists. (Ours, of course, is not in the same category. It’s a “Things We Liked” list, which feels different.) Not that they aren’t useful or a good recap of things you meant to read but maybe never got around to, but it’s just that they are SO many of them. They make me feel anxious, like no matter how much I’ve read, it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t the right book.

And then a friend sent me a link to Brain Pickings, which has the most interesting collection of book recommendations I have seen. Mostly books I’ve  never even heard of. And many include pictures, drawing and art, melded with science or history or philosophy, a fusion of topics that push you to think about something a little bit differently. You like photographyPhilosophy? History? Science? Each list promises to focus on that topic, but freely branches into others as well.  These are not, maybe, the books that everyone heard about when they came out, but they should’ve been. Luckily Maria Popova, the editor of Brain Pickings, is here to remedy that.(And hey, we did review number one on the science list, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Read our review here.)

From what I can tell, Popova is an immaculate writer who also writes for Wired UK and The Atlantic, etc., etc. For this website, she is a self-described “cultural curator”, bringing readers “cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers.” (She is a creator of alliterative sentences as well.) Her goal: “to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.” Totally true, because I found myself wanting to read every book on her lists, even books about topics I am totally unfamiliar with.

So if you’re looking for one last list to inspire you to read more of 2011, consider checking out Brain Pickings. I know I’ll be looking there, even culling their archives (7 Essential Books about the City? YES please!).

Happy New Year, dear readers, and may you find the time in 2012 to read everything that piques your interest! (A girl can dream, right?)

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Odds and Ends

Merry Sunday, everyone.

We’re doing some year-end business for the next thirteen days, but in the meantime we thought we’d let you know about our packed January review schedule.

January 3: Leigh Stein’s The Fallback Plan
Stein’s debut arrives just after New Year’s Day and deals with a topic near and dear to our hearts: what to do after college? Of course the protagonist, Esther Kohler, has a situation much more complicated than any of ours; that’s probably why she’s a character in a novel and we’re just a bunch of metropolitan white people. We digress! Stein is 26, and by all accounts, her debut is a promising entrance into the fiction world.

January 4: Sandra Newman’s The Western Lit Survival Kit: An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner
Newman’s flyover “guide to the classics” is certainly written at the right time: if there’s one thing the aughts-generation (Are we Generation Z or something? Whatever.) has seemingly missed out on, it’s classic literature. My high school English courses were a wasteland in terms of quality classic literature, the only two exceptions being Native Son and The Great Gatsby. (I’m not counting the abridged-to-airplane-safety-manual-size translation of The Odyssey, either.) Newman, in humorous fashion, condenses these texts, using a formula to rate and discuss them.

January 9: Ayad Akhtar’s American Dervish
Akhtar’s debut novel (can you tell we still love first-time authors?) has a very clear objective: to tell the story of being Muslim in America, long before 9/11, in the 80s and 90s. American Dervish focuses on Hayat Shah, a pre-teen Muslim in suburban Milwaukee attempting to reconcile his faith and his family. But while it focuses on Hayat, Dervish is as much about the female experience in Islam. The subject matter is charged and sure to provoke some reaction; but Akhtar’s own command of Islamic texts is so strong that there is authenticity and authority in criticisms of religious texts or traditions.

January 9: Doc Hendley’s Wine to Water: A Bartender’s Quest to Bring Clean Water to the World
Hendley’s memoir is a genuine story of a small town American meeting faraway problems in remote corners of the world. His stories are riveting, and his charm apparent.

January 17: Ben Marcus’ The Flame Alphabet
Marcus, known as much for his criticism of Jonathan Franzen as his own presence as a force in our literary culture, focuses his new novel on a plague: language. Adults, affected by their children’s use of it, are struck with a grotesque condition, with jaundice, soreness, open sores—all things one associates with, you know, plagues. The Flame Alphabet is haunting, and a slam-dunk to be on (most) year-end lists in 2012. Also: kick-ass cover art, if there ever was; my goodness.

January 17: Eli Gottlieb’s The Face Thief
Gottlieb’s new novel focuses on a protagonist, Margot, well-versed in the Chinese art of face reading. Using her new-found powers for untoward means—preying on the weaknesses of men—Margot destroys lives and families.

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Check Out Leigh Stein

So this girl seems pretty cool, smart and funny and you’d definitely want to be friends with her. DBC will be reviewing her new book (her first!) The Fallback Plan for its release date January 3rd. I think I can tell you it’s quite good without giving away too much.

Stay tuned for when I reveal much more and, until then, get a taste of the author’s witty writing in her advice column over at The Faster Times.

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Hey! I Found Someone Defending Amazon

I’m-a do the whole Andrew Sullivan Daily Dish thing and just trot out some articles about publishing and bookselling and the like. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, who is known mostly for his irreverent takes on restaurant Web sites and the abhorrence of two spaces after a period, wrote a long piece defending Amazon for its convenience,  both for readers and writers. I guess that’s a decent stance to take–more people are reading and writing now as a result of Amazon. The Kindle has made people more voracious in their reading; sales are up; the industry might not totally be dead. Continue reading

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The Week in Tweets

Oh, hey guys. Ever have that thing happen when Friday arrives and you’ve no idea what cool things in the world of publishing happened since Monday? Well, that’s why we’re going to start reviewing the week—in tweets!

Bonnie Nadzam’s Lamb was awarded the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize by The Center for Fiction. We reviewed Lamb way back in September, and had generally pleasant comments, noting its “sharp” prose and Nadzam’s willingness to focus on a topic has unpalatable as child molestation. Upon reflection, it’s a book that’s stayed with me; one driven by plot (gasp!), a plot that’s brave and unexpected and winding. Good for Nadzam. She deserves the honor.

You can read our review of Lamb here.

Now this one’s not really news. FotB (friend of the blog, peepz) John Warner made a pretty solid point here about Jeffrey Eugenides’ critically acclaimed third novel, The Marriage Plot. Though few would dispute its sheer pleasantness, The Marriage Plot isn’t a great book. It’s an example of a great writer’s great storytelling, but not a great writer’s great story. Get it? Kind of?

It’s fiction for a very particular crowd. And that crowd, as it happens, is already well catered to in the literary fiction genre.

You can still read our exchange from earlier this year at The Morning News, and the review that prompted it. You should also buy his debut novel, The Funny Man

There is a point when an organization’s or individual’s evilness transcends reality, becomes so imposing that it borders on comedy or camp or parody. What Amazon rolled out this week reads like an article from The Onion. Very short summary: Amazon will pay you up to $5 to scan items in local stores—using your smartphone—so long as you then purchase the item through Amazon. It’s bad enough that bookstores can’t compete with Amazon’s bargain-basement pricing; now Amazon is literally handing people money to not buy from other retailers. The good folks over at The Rumpus have got it right: Amazon is extremely wrong here.

And in response, we will no longer link our readers to Amazon. They’re everywhere already. You may have noticed in this post that we linked book titles to Powell’s, America’s (probably) most famous independent bookstore. (Another great idea from the fine folks at The Rumpus!) We don’t expect you to buy anything from Powell’s; just don’t buy from Amazon. Buy local—before it’s too late.

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