- Paul Berman writes at length about Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. “Isn’t there, in the end, a touch of sentimental fakery here?” he asks.
- Joan Didion’s “Politics in the ‘New Normal’ America,” an essay about the current U.S. presidential race, appears in the current New York Review of Books.
- Richard Leiby supposedly reports on “scenes from a [New Yorker Festival] cocktail party that might have come from a New Yorker cartoon.” In truth Leiby is waylaid by tequila and doesn’t talk to many writers, aside from Salman Rushdie and ZZ Packer. Here’s what he says of Packer:
Fiction writer ZZ Packer is bumming smokes and expressing amazement that the president used the word “vociferously” in the debate with Kerry.
Then Packer hails a cab, so we never get to ask her, “Are you related to ZZ Top?”
Yeah, I’m sure she’s never heard that one before. Growing up in Kentucky and all. (Emma and I saw ZZ Packer and Lorrie Moore read at the festival on Friday night; maybe I’ll put up a brief post about that in the next day or two.) The proprietor of Beatrice writes about the festival’s tribute to Joseph Brodsky and relays a story told by Gary Shtenygart about the poet.
- A story about Stephen Elliott‘s Operation Ohio readings and his push to have college students in swing states sign up to receive phone calls from famous authors on election day appeared in the weekend’s New York Times. Elliott sends word by email that “we’ve opened it up so we’re now calling students in 8 states: Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, and Wisconsin.”
- Several Scottish celebrities, esteemed writers among them, refuse to attend the official opening of the new Scottish parliament by the Queen on Saturday. Said author Iain Banks:
I’m a citizen of Scotland, the UK and Europe and absolutely not a subject of a hereditary monarch, appointed by God or not. Turning up at events like this just encourages them.
Writers James Kelman, Alasdair Gray and Irvine Welsh will attend a rival event organized by Scottish republicans.
- Sara Nelson evaluates the re-designed New York Times Book Review, which debuted yesterday: “[I]f publishers had been holding their breath in fear that it would signal the end of the book biz, they can exhale. At least for now.”
- William Boyd attempts to classify the “multifarious forms” of the short story. Boyd’s Fascination, a new short story collection, takes a bit of a beating in the weekend’s Guardian due to excessive “narrative experimentation.” A friend at Penguin U.K. forwarded the book a few months back. I only read a few stories, but I admired the experimentation, actually.
- From the current Atlantic Monthly:
[The decline in reading, especially fiction, is] not for want of would-be novelists and poets: the number of people who claim to do “creative writing” has risen from around 11 million to nearly 15 million since 1982, meaning that a full seven percent of the adult population is currently churning out writing for an ever diminishing pool of readers.
- Told by a couple of English teachers that they couldn’t put his manuscript down, some enterprising writer has put his debut novel “up for auction only to real popular writers and authors, which names are already known,” such as John Grisham, Oprah Winfrey, Stephen King “or the ever so popular J.K. Rawlings.” The original starting bid was $150,000, but the future bestseller has been relisted at $125,000. Although the handwritten manuscript amounts to a mere 200 pages, the author assures bidders, “approximately after put in print, you would have a 400-450 page book.” (Via Readerville.)