- Fact: the New York Public Library has among its possessions a letter opener with a handle made from the paw of Charles Dickens’s dead cat. (“The story is that he had trained his cat to put out his night candle with his paw.”)
- “Genre doesn’t have to be vexing. It can be illuminating. It can be useful for writers and readers to think in terms of groups and traditions. And a good genre system—a system that really fits reality—can help us see the traditions in which we’re already, unconsciously, immersed.”
- Sixty years ago, the CIA helped to bankroll England’s first-ever animated film: an adaptation of Animal Farm. They thought it would make for great anti-Russian propaganda, especially if they changed the ending, and they knew it would be cheaper to make it in England. “The CIA agent who bought the film rights supposedly promised Mrs. Orwell that he would arrange for her to meet her favorite star, Clark Gable.” Did such a meeting ever occur? When will our government finally tell us the truth?
- Oops: “Do you remember when the Authors Guild sued Google over Google Book Search, which is basically the right to make an index of stuff in books? They said to Google, ‘If you’re going to do this, you’re going to do it on our terms, and you’re going to have to give us a whole $70 million.’ … Google said, ‘$70 million? Let’s shake the sofa and find some change for you.’ Meanwhile, you are guaranteeing that nobody else in the future history of the world will be able to afford to index books, which is one of the ways people find and buy books. Now Google owns that forever, for a mere $70 million! Nice work, Authors Guild. You’ve just made us all sharecroppers in Google’s fields for the rest of eternity.”
- The latest battle in the Usage Wars is really heating up: “If you say ‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ you are probably a native speaker of English or someone with a good command of how native speakers actually speak. If you say ‘It’s not you—it’s I,’ you will quickly achieve the goal of making the other person not want to spend any more time with you. Yet this bizarre formulation is just how Nathan Heller of The New Yorker would have you speak.”
The Paris Review has recently published two stories by Ben Lerner, who won our Terry Southern Prize this year: first was “False Spring” (issue 205) and then “Specimen Days” (issue 208). Both are excerpts from his excellent new novel 10:04. If you’ve opened a newspaper or book review in the past month, you’ve likely encountered rhapsodic praise for 10:04. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “Mr. Lerner packs so much brilliance and humor into each episode … this brain-tickling book imbues real experiences with a feeling of artistic possibility, leaving the observable world ‘a little changed, a little charged.’” In The Times, Dwight Garner wrote that Lerner is “among the most interesting young American novelists at present,” and in Bookforum, Christian Lorentzen called 10:04 “a beautiful and original novel … it signals a new direction in American fiction.” NPR said that it’s “strange and spectacular … Don’t even worry about classifying it; just let Lerner’s language sweep you off your feet.”
And why not let that sweeping happen in person? Next Tuesday, September 16, Lerner will appear at the New York Public Library in conversation with Paul Holdengräber—it’s sure to be an expansive interview, and we’re giving away two front-row seats. (For proof of Holdengräber’s conversational acumen, check out his Art of Nonfiction interview with Adam Phillips, which we published in our Spring issue.)
For a chance to win, retweet our announcement below before three P.M. EST today. We’ll select two winners at random. Bonne chance!
We have two free front-row tickets to Tuesday’s @LIVEfromtheNYPL event with Ben Lerner. Retweet by three P.M. EST today for a chance to win!
— The Paris Review (@parisreview) September 12, 2014
- At the New York Public Library, a copy of Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique (1926), once known as “the best-selling sex manual of all time,” was returned nearly fifty-four years late. Carnal knowledge takes time.
- New York City requires its restaurants to “have posted in a conspicuous place, easily accessible to all employees and customers, a sign graphically depicting the Heimlich maneuver,” but the city’s official poster isn’t exactly pleasing to an aesthetic eye. “Restaurants citywide are increasingly turning to boutique posters to blend in with their overall look, so far without drawing the ire of health inspectors.” Graphic designers sell these for as much as eighty bucks.
- “The paranoid logic of the censoring mentality” makes sense only if one believes that readers are morons.
- “The Internet has been the most dramatic change in the lives of blind people since the invention of Braille. I can still remember having to go into a bank to ask the teller to read my bank balances to me, cringing as she read them in a very loud, slow voice … tech-savvy blind people were early Internet adopters. In the 1980s, as a kid with a 2400-baud modem, I’d make expensive international calls from New Zealand to a bulletin-board system in Pittsburgh that had been established specifically to bring blind people together. My hankering for information, inspiration, and fellowship meant that even as a cash-strapped student, I felt the price of the calls was worth paying.”
- In 2008, a seventeen-year-old changed the Wikipedia entry on the coati, a kind of raccoon that he claimed is also known as “a Brazilian aardvark.” References to this fabricated nickname “have since appeared in the Independent, the Daily Mail, and even in a book published by the University of Chicago … [The claim] still remains on its Wikipedia entry, only now it cites a 2010 article in the Telegraph as evidence … This kind of feedback loop—wherein an error that appears on Wikipedia then trickles to sources that Wikipedia considers authoritative, which are in turn used as evidence for the original falsehood—is a documented phenomenon. There’s even a Wikipedia article describing it.”
If you get the chance before September 7, make a point of checking out the New York Public Library’s exhibition “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.” Even if you need no convincing on this score, you’ll love it: the exhibition is divided into a series of roughly chronological sub-categories—“Artistry of the Picture Book,” “From Page to Stage”—and illustrated with a wealth of amazing original sketches and manuscripts from iconic children’s books. Then there are the artifacts; you can see P. L. Travers’s parrot-head umbrella, and the original Winnie the Pooh stuffed bear, surrounded by his menagerie of equally well-worn friends.
If you are someone who loves children’s books, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the onslaught of Proustian reveries the show inspires. It feels a bit the way psychics say hospitals and graveyards feel to them—too many memories and associations and forgotten feelings clamoring to be heard at once. Certainly you will have to leave and come back. Read More
Brain Pickings’s Maria Popova has curated a fantastic selection of books for the New York Public Library’s bookstore. And that’s not all: artist Kelli Anderson did a 3-D papercraft display based on the chosen books, which, in turn, was made into a time-lapse video. It’s all great, but we couldn’t resist sharing this GIF of the Strunk, White, and Kalman Elements of Style collage being assembled.
- “It is definitely not your mother’s Donnell,” says the New York Times, ominously, of the new plans for the Fifty-Third Street branch of the New York Public Library.
- Famously reclusive eighty-seven-year-old national treasure Harper Lee is suing literary agent Samuel Pinkus over the copyright for To Kill a Mockingbird. Says Lee’s lawyer, “Pinkus knew that Harper Lee was an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see … Harper Lee had no idea she had assigned her copyright.”
- The new Goodreads archnemesis (our word), Riffle, is live.
- Martin Amis apparently “views the Brooklyn hipster scene as populated by conventional posers.”
- If fictional mothers wrote hypothetical parenting books—because why not?