Beware the Mineshaft of Books, and Other News


On the Shelf


Susanna Hesselberg’s ominous library, in Denmark.

  • From 1859 to 1870, Dickens edited All the Year Round, a literary magazine that declined to identify its contributors. But a newly discovered twenty-volume set teeming with Dickens’s annotations threatens to blow everyone’s cover: in pencil, Dickens has noted the authors in each issue, including Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, Lewis Carroll, and Eliza Lynn Linton.
  • The Tale of Genji is a very long eleventh-century Japanese book by the noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu, often cited as the world’s first novel. A new English translation suggests that its stories can still captivate many centuries later, even if those stories were hell to translate. “Every page is sprinkled with poems or phrases pointing to Chinese and Japanese literary sources that an eleventh-century aesthete might have been proud to notice but are lost on most Japanese today, let alone the reader of an English translation … A literal translation of Genji would be unreadable. And the vagueness, so poetic in Japanese, would simply be unintelligible to the Western reader.”
  • Endurance lit—stories of extreme athletic feats in which one daring sportsman survives enormous hardship, et cetera to emerge on the other side a more thoughtful, ethical human being, et cetera—is a thriving subgenre, but what explains its appeal? “Here’s the most revealing facet of endurance lit: most of the best sellers in this genre are about self-imposed hardship. They are about sport, in its widest sense. True endurance is the kind shown by the sweatshop worker who arrives for her fourteen-hour shift, day after day, and is paid buttons … But books about sweatshop workers do not sell by the lorry load.”
  • Public-service announcement: there are libraries and then there are “libraries,” which—watch out—will sometimes turn out to be never-ending pits lined with bookshelves, like this one.
  • New York’s Brazenhead Books, a shop that’s more speakeasy than bookstore, faces an eviction notice, and its proprietor, Michael Seidenberg, is hoping for a billionaire donor. He may get his wish: since the threat of closure has begun to hover, “the secret store has become a ‘secret’ one, with much written about it. The New Yorker has a film crew documenting his exit, as the books begin to get boxed and moved, at least for now, in with his wife and dogs.”