- Facebook has acquired Push Pop Press, a start-up that converts books into iPad- and iPhone-friendly formats.
- “Until a few years ago, hardly a day would go by in the summer without the mailman bringing a postcard from a vacationing friend or acquaintance. Nowadays, you’re bound to get an email enclosing a photograph, or, if your grandchildren are the ones doing the traveling, a brief message telling you that their flight has been delayed or that they have arrived.”
- Vote for the top one hundred science-fiction and fantasy titles.
- Anyone for retro cocktails?
- Joanna Lumley is raising funds to convert the home that helped inspire Peter Pan into a children’s literature center.
- In praise of small-town papers.
- Remembering Elizabeth Mackintosh—aka Josephine Tey, aka Gordon Daviot.
- Meet the new Spider-Man: Brooklynite Miles Morales.
- The New Yorker conquers the iPad.
- A guide to literary Edinburgh.
- #undatable—the literary characters you really wouldn’t want to date.
- Please judge these Virago Modern Classics by their gorgeous covers!
Virginia Woolf, who had no children of her own, famously directed much of her maternal energy to the offspring of Vanessa Bell, her sole full sister and long-standing dust-jacket designer. Vanessa’s oldest son Julian was Woolf’s particular favorite. He was named for Virginia’s brother Julian Thoby Stephen, who died of typhoid at the age of twenty-six on a trip to Greece. Thoby, as he was called, inspired Woolf to write Jacob’s Room, in which she rendered the protagonist chiefly through others’ memories; the pain of his loss was such that, even in fiction, she strained against summoning him by direct account.
When the younger Julian decided to pursue poetry, his aunt Virginia offered the blend of succor and static seen in this previously unpublished letter. Composed in Woolf’s signature purple ink, and dated simply “Thursday,” the letter reads in full: “Thursday. My dear Julian. I like the poem very much. It still wants CURRENCY I think. When did you write it? It shall be the cornerstone of my new library at Rodmell. But this is to say—please be here 7:30 sharp tomorrow (Friday) as we want you to drive Rachel & us to a restaurant.” Read More
On a recent Friday evening I went to see the new documentary Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness at a West Side theater that, on any given day, swings heavily Jewish and seriously elderly and on this occasion surpassed itself on both counts. The audience arrived early, settled slowly, talked loudly, and laughed at Yiddish jokes before they were translated, probably among the last people in the world able to do so. My own few words of the language—picked up in a class I briefly flirted with at the 92nd Street Y—were of little help.
That class was held only a few blocks from my grandparents’ apartment, and each week, I’d go there afterward for a late dinner. They were glad to see me regularly—I wasn’t, typically, on the Upper East Side—but the nature of the class made the dinners particularly meaningful. My grandfather would speak to me in Yiddish. I’d known it was his first language, of course, but he never spoke it normally, and it was surprising to see him slip into it as if eighty years hadn’t elapsed.
My grandfather, who died earlier this year, was a librettist, which is to say he wrote the dialogue for musicals. He started in radio, worked in early TV, and in the fifties made the move to Broadway. Looking for new material in the early sixties, he rediscovered Sholem-Aleichem’s tales of shtetl life and transformed them into an unlikely musical that became Fiddler on the Roof. (He had come to my sixth-grade class and told us about its inception—the difficulty of finding producers, the skeptics and naysayers, the creative team’s unwavering commitment to the project—during our “Immigration” unit.) Read More
Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was first published fifty years ago this fall. Heller’s biographer, Tracy Daugherty, marks the occasion with a consideration of the author’s legacy.
In the early 1970s, during the period he was writing his second novel, Something Happened, Joseph Heller, approaching his fifties, fretted about his health. He was shocked by how bloated he looked in mirrors. The double chins in his publicity photos bothered him. He began working out regularly at a YMCA in the sixties on Broadway in Manhattan, running four miles a day on a small track there. “The Angel of Death is in the gym today,” said the Y’s patrons every so often. Not infrequently, ambulance crews showed up to cart away, on a stretcher, an elderly man in a T-shirt and shorts who had collapsed while running or doing chin-ups.
While exercising, Heller avoided meeting anyone’s eyes. He pursued his laps with grim seriousness. He worried about the slightest ache or twinge—in his lower back, bladder, calves, the tendons of his ankles, or bottoms of his feet. Sometimes, faint vertical pains shot through his chest and up through his collarbone. This was a hell of a way to try to feel better.
In this melancholy spirit (stretching, rolling his arms to ease the needling pains), he squirreled away portions of Something Happened in a locker at the Y, in case fire ran through his apartment or his writing studio, or he keeled over one day.
In the spring of 1974—a fit fifty-one-year-old—he completed the manuscript to his satisfaction and decided to copy it for his agent. He took his teenage daughter, Erica, with him to the copy shop. “I figured if a car hit me, if I got mugged, or if I dropped dead of a heart attack, the manuscript might still be saved,” he later told Erica. Read More
We’ve heeded your wishes and, by popular demand, our super-duper Leanne Shapton–illustrated Paris Review beach towel is now available for purchase, yours for a very reasonable $20.
The smartest towel of summer and reading material to match? That’s what we call a deal.
I am buying Christopher Johnson’s Microstyle: The Art of Writing Little after reading Dwight Garner’s review in the New York Times. Johnson is a branding consultant (he worked at Lexicon Branding, a firm that has invented names such as Blackberry and Powerbook). “‘Feminine’ brand names,” he writes, “like Chanel, are often iambs; ‘masculine’ ones, like Black & Decker, tend to be trochees.” —Thessaly La Force
In an effort to reclaim my childhood, I dug up Edward Gorey’s The Epiplectic Bicycle: “It was the day after Tuesday and the day before Wednesday. Embley and Yewbert were hitting one another with croquet mallets.” Need I say more? —Eli Mandel
I picked up Sara Wheeler’s The Magnetic North for a brief respite from the city heat, but now I’m itching to hitch a ride on an ice breaker, wrangle up some reindeer, and embark upon that great milky abyss, the Arctic circle. —Mackenzie Beer
I just saw the documentary Page One, which was described to me as an “inside look at the production of The New York Times.” Really, it’s more of a riveting love letter to journalism. David Carr, the media columnist on whom the film focuses, is humorous, gritty, and lovable—exactly my idea of the perfect newspaperman. —Sophie Haigney
The winners of this year’s Bulwer-Lytton bad-sentence contest outdid themselves. My favorite: “As I stood among the ransacked ruin that had been my home, surveying the aftermath of the senseless horrors and atrocities that had been perpetrated on my family and everything I hold dear, I swore to myself that no matter where I had to go, no matter what I had to do or endure, I would find the man who did this . . . and when I did, when I did, oh, there would be words.” —Sadie Stein
In anticipation of John Berger’s Bento’s Sketchbook, I’ve been paging through I Send You This Cadmium Red, a book of correspondence between Berger and the artist John Christie. Their first letter is a painted square of color—the eponymous color, of course—which leads them to exchanges on everything from the blue of Yves Klein to the blue of Matisse. The accumulation is a monument to friendship, art, and the art of letter writing. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn
Continuum took two things that I love—music writing and books that fit in my back pocket—and put them together to make a series that is my favorite thing ever. I plan to get through all eighty-three books, each of which contains a critical discussion of one classic album. Up first for me was Nas’s Illmatic. Up next? Maybe My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. Or Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the Sea. —Cody Wiewandt
If book reviews could kill. Slate has three golden rules for reviewing. —Ali Pechman
Just in case anyone forgot, Splitsider reminds us of the sexual shenanigans on Friends. —C. W.
Watch all nine minutes of this video, where the life of a baby humpback whale is saved after it becomes dangerously entangled in a nylon fishing net. —T. L.