At the start of the new year, Georgia’s oldest bookstore turned 125. Horton’s Books and Gifts is in Carrollton, west of Atlanta. Its founder, N. A. Horton, was an undertaker who, in 1891, decided to sell schoolbooks in his other business—which is to say, inside a funeral parlor. Although the store moved several times in its early days, it’s returned a long while ago to that original location—and, yes, it’s said to be haunted. Read More
- For the painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet, the most profound art was “art brut”—created from chaos and madness by the mentally ill. A new exhibition at the American Folk Art museum explores his ethos. Our managing editor, Nicole Rudick, explains: “Dubuffet advocated on behalf of art brut in famously eloquent pamphlets, speeches, and manifestos. In 1951, he gave a talk at the Art Institute of Chicago called ‘Anticultural Positions,’ which set out his antiformalist, expressive style and his dissatisfaction with Western conceptions of beauty. He rejected the notion that certain objects are more beautiful than others, advocating instead for the idea that ‘there is no ugly object nor ugly person in this world and that beauty does not exist anywhere, but that any object is able to become fascinating and illuminating.’ ”
- Today, literary blogs such as this one face competition from their fiercest adversary yet: Bill Gates. His blog, Gates Notes, features a thriving book reviews section—and Gates, unlike all those self-aggrandizing show-off critics you’ve grown accustomed to, endeavors “to fill his reviews with bits of information he hopes people will consider, even if they don’t end up reading the book. ‘I read textbooks related to global health but they are pretty technical for a general audience, so I generally don’t review them,’ he said … ‘I like to share what I learn from books like that because I know most people won’t read the whole thing but some will read an 800-word review of it.’”
- Conventional wisdom maintains that commercial fiction is vastly more sentimental than “serious” literary fiction—and that eschewing sentimentality is a good way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Academics have tested that notion using sentiment analysis, mapping the number of positive and negative words in literary novels: “There appears to be an assumption at work among the canon that reality is harsh and positivity distorts the truth … It’s not that emotions are absent from the most serious of serious literature. Rather, what is missing is a kind of explicit articulation of belief, what we might call, for lack of a better word, conviction. Over time we seem to institutionally value novels that downplay the clarity of their own beliefs. This makes a good deal of sense—novels that endure do so because they represent more open belief systems, ones that allow readers across broader stretches of time to engage with them and explore their own beliefs.”
- Free yourself from the tyranny of choice. Submit to the awesome power of fate. Visit this Tokyo bookstore, where only one title is for sale each week. (Right now it’s Masaru Tatsuki’s photo anthology Fish-Man.) “This bookstore that sells only one book could also be described as ‘a bookstore that organises an exhibition derived from a single book,’ ” says the proprietor, Yoshiyuki Morioka. “For instance, when selling a book on flowers, in the store could be exhibited a flower that actually appears in the book. Also, I ask the authors and editors to be at the bookstore for as much time as possible. This is an attempt to make the two-dimensional book into three-dimensional ambience and experience. I believe that the customers, or readers, should feel as though they are entering ‘inside a book.’ ”
- In 1939, when he was nine, the historian Gerhard Weinberg fled Germany to escape Hitler. Now Weinberg is eighty-seven and advocating for the first new German edition of Hitler’s Mein Kampf since 1945, along with its little-known sequel. “In 2003, Weinberg wrote, ‘Germany and the rest of the world have not yet come close to coming to terms with Hitler as a person, as leader of a great nation, and as a symbol.’ The publication history of his books seems to support Weinberg’s point. In 1961, publishers were afraid of Hitler’s second book. In 2013, the state of Bavaria showed that it was still afraid of his first. The lack of critical editions didn’t prevent readers from accessing Hitler’s ideas—instead, it prevented historians from shaping the way these books are remembered.”
I am between books. It’s a very uncomfortable place to be. On the one hand, after finishing something good and thought provoking, you don’t necessarily want to move on too quickly—you want to digest and mourn the loss and crave the comfort of its world. You miss the characters. It would feel jarring to just open another novel and invest your mind and heart fully once again. On the other hand, after enough time, you become restive and begin to yearn for the escape, the absorption and stimulation that only a good book can bring—and you begin to wonder if you can ever feel again the pleasure and compulsion you knew only days ago. Maybe, at last, you’ve read every good book in the world. Read More
Whenever you hear about the death of another specialty bookstore—RIP Mystery Bookstore! RIP Cookbook Store!—walk over to that unlikeliest bastion of hope, West 40th Street, and breathe a sigh of relief: the Drama Book Shop abides. And it’s not just that the store is a treasure trove of plays and scripts and monologues and a beloved nurturer of theatrical talent, with a Tony Award to prove it. The Drama Book Shop is a testament to one of the few areas where print still reigns supreme.
Newspapers might be threatened by e-readers, technology may have supplanted books, and recipes can be found online in abundance. But scripts? Scripts are necessary. Scripts are tangible. They bow before no millennial’s avowedly shortened attention span. You can highlight on a Kindle, maybe—but can you annotate? Can you plunk it down at a table reading? (The answer is yes, obviously, but it would be harder, significantly harder, and that’s not nothing.) Read More
- Ken Kalfus is on his way to the bookstore, and he’s not having a swell time—because how can you, anymore? “Bookstores have become places of regret and shame. We once enjoyed shopping in them or simply looking in their windows, back in the days when they were ordinary retail establishments. They were like stores that sold shoes or hats, but with more appealing merchandise. Now they’ve taken on moral significance. Buying a book and choosing the place to do so involve delicate and complicated considerations. You may fail to do the right thing.”
- Philip Larkin will soon be honored with a flagstone at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey—a kind of rarefied Walk of Fame where he’ll join such august forebears as Chaucer, Dickens, and Ted Hughes. Asterisk: Larkin regarded his fellow flagstoners, to a one, as hacks. “We do not find any great striving towards artistic greatness,” he said of The Canterbury Tales; Dickens was “hectic, nervy, panic-stricken,” with “queer names, queer characters”; and Hughes he regarded as simply “no good at all.”
- From the annals of censorship: Thomas Hardy’s original manuscript for Tess of the D’Urbervilles fell afoul of the morality police in strange ways. Macmillan’s Magazine, which rejected the novel for its “immoral situations,” thought Hardy overused the word succulent: “Perhaps I might say that the general impression left on me by reading your story … is one of rather too much succulence.” Another magazine, Graphic, wouldn’t serialize it until Hardy removed “references to characters traveling on a Sunday and to rewrite the scene in which Angel Clare carries Tess and her fellow milkmaids over a stream—one of the novel’s great moments of muted desire—so that he instead pushed her across in a wheelbarrow.”
- Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs was a strange book when it appeared in 1995—it’s even stranger now. A novel based on a piece he’d reported for Wired, it endorses a kind of techno-utopia in which start-ups can give real meaning to life, but “the possibility that work within a capitalist system, no matter how creative and freeform and unlike what your parents did, might be fundamentally incompatible with self-actualization and spiritual fulfillment is not on the table.” And the Internet is only a glimmer, if not a mirage, on the horizon. “This highway,” one character asks of the Information Superhighway: “Is it a joke? You hear so much about it, but really, what is it … The media has gone berserk with Net-this and Net-that. It’s a bit much. The Net is cool, but not that cool.”
- Nonfiction publishing is full of middlebrow “talking-point books”: essentially swollen magazine pieces that hang shoddy scholarship on some banal marketing hook. “We have a flock of books arguing that the internet is either the answer to all our problems or the cause of them; we have scads of books telling us about the importance of mindfulness, or forgetfulness, or distraction, or stress. We have any number about what one recent press release called the ‘always topical’ debate between science and religion. We have a whole subcategory that concern themselves with ‘what it means to be human.’”
The art collective Le Gun (Steph von Reiswitz, Neal Fox, Chris Bianchi, and Robert Greene) has mounted “Tales from the Void,” a stealthy takeover of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, that Parisian mainstay. Their installation comprises hand-drawn “sculptural books”—many with fake but disarmingly plausible titles like Encyclopedia of Beatnikism and The Minotaur of Montmartre—hidden among the shop’s shelves. You’ll find some favorites below.
They’ve also completed the large-scale drawing above, a sprawling tribute to the history and culture of the bookshop that depicts various writer personages, including—count them all—George Whitman, Michael Smith, Ezra Pound, Gregory Corso, Olympia, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, James Joyce, Paul Auster, Frank Sinatra, Colette the Dog, Martin Amis, Henry Miller, Aaron Budnik, Richard Wright, Sylvia Whitman, Lawrence Durrell, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, James Baldwin, Sylvia Beach, Ray Bradbury, William Burroughs, Dionysus, James Jones, Zadie Smith, the “generic spirit of Beatnikism,” Anaïs Nin, and Kitty, the shop’s resident cat. Read More