- It may surprise you that literary history could frown upon Seth Grahame-Smith, the “mash-up novelist” famous for his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Grahame-Smith is now being sued by Hachette, his publisher, for breach of contract. Alison Flood explains the case at the Guardian: “The complaint says the Grahame-Smith delivered the second manuscript in June 2016, but alleges that the work was ‘not original to Smith, but instead is in large part an appropriation of a 120-year-old public-domain work,’ that it ‘materially varies from the 80,000–100,000 word limit’ agreed on, and that it ‘is not comparable in style and quality to Smith’s wholly original best seller Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.’ ” Maybe this will put an end to Jane Austen rewrites not penned by Whit Stillman.
Baseball, perhaps because its players spend so much time in stillness, prompts us to say some pretty silly things about it. Grown men go misty and reach for metaphor: “Baseball is cigar smoke, hot roasted peanuts, The Sporting News, ladies’ day, ‘Down in Front,’ ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame,’ and the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’” as Ernie Harwell—genius broadcaster, magician of nostalgia, limited poet—said in his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1981. The great appeal of Billy Beane, the general manager, beginning in 1998, of the Oakland A’s, who is played by Brad Pitt in the new movie Moneyball, is that he offers us an antidote to such sentimentality. He embraces innovative statistical metrics (called, with a ring of sharpness, sabermetrics); he is on a ruthless quest for efficiency. More thrilling still, he may not even like baseball all that much. One of the suggestions of the book Moneyball, written by Michael Lewis, and of its movie adaptation, is that Beane is at war with the game itself. As a middling professional in the eighties, he was tricked into thinking that he was good enough to play at an exceptional level, and there are hints that all his subsequent maneuverings have been fueled by a vindictive desire to upend baseball’s traditions, to make its most storied franchises look petty and stupid, and to stamp out its most deeply embedded myths. Read More
Every summer the good people at Oxford Classics sponsor a reading group in the Reading Room at Bryant Park. I joined them this week to discuss New Grub Street (1891), George Gissing’s novel about freelancers who haunt the British Museum. What I remembered—what everyone remembers—is the scary depiction of writer’s block. (George Orwell: “To a professional writer it is … an upsetting and demoralizing book, because it deals, among other things, with that much-dreaded occupational disease, sterility.”) What I noticed this time was the love story between Jasper Milvain, a slick young critic on the make, and shy, scholarly Marian Yule, the nicest, toughest, smartest person in the book. —Lorin Stein
Galleys of the two-volume Letters of T. S. Eliot just landed on my desk. And everyone who’s anyone is here: Ezra Pound, Lytton Strachey, Edmund Wilson, and Conrad Aiken, but also Wyndham Lewis, Jacques Riviere, and James Joyce. How disarming, though, to see a letter addressed to Bertrand Russell as “Dear Bertie” and signed “Affectionately, Tom.” —Nicole Rudick
I had the chance to do a Q & A with Carmela Ciuraru this week, the author of Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms. The book is a series of portraits of literary figures throughout history—the Brontes, George Eliot, O. Henry, Georges Simenon—who for one reason or another adopted pseudonyms. It’s fascinating—and, incidentally, piqued my interest in an author I hadn’t read, Fernando Pessoa. —Sadie Stein
Aaron Sorkin and David Carr talk about cocaine, journalism, and The New York Times. —Thessaly La Force
New Directions Pearls are small books on large topics: Fitzgerald on booze, Garcia Lorca on duende, Borges’s Everything and Nothing. The books are about the size of postcard, which means they fit in your back pocket and can also be used as fans or as bookmarks for bigger books. Right now I’m reading Joseph Roth’s The Leviathan, a longish short story about the coral merchant Nissen Piczenik and his holiday in Odessa. It’s a gem. —Robyn Creswell
Molly Lambert takes on Kanye West over at Grantland and produces this glorious footnote: “Almost all classic West Coast rap is about being the world’s worst boyfriend. Too Short and Eazy-E would not be very good boyfriends.” —Cody Wiewandt
I reread From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which I remembered even less well than Grub Street, but which brought to mind David Grann’s piece on Peter Paul Biro. —L. S.
Tom Bissell reviews the video game L. A. Noire. —T. L.
Because you can’t watch this too many times and, well, it’s Friday. —Peter Conroy