- The cafard and mirthlessness that have long governed French philosophers have now extended to French writers of all kinds—a new survey says they’ve never been unhappier. Their proposed solution? Surrender. “French writers have never felt more badly paid, undervalued, or under pressure … More than half of established authors earn less than the minimum wage. Many are so depressed by the state of the book industry that they are considering giving up altogether, according to a new report that canvassed more than 100,000 authors of fiction and nonfiction … Although exact comparisons are difficult to make, French writers appear to be still doing better than their British or American equivalents.”
- BREAKING: Nicholson Baker loves pockets. Give him a good pair of pockets, he’s happier than a pig in shit. And who isn’t, really? You gonna look me in the eye and tell me you don’t like pockets? “I’m a pocket-loving guy,” Baker says in a new podcast. “At any moment I got a couple pens—like why would you have just one pen? For a long time I tried to do everything with pockets … the pocketing of things. The prestidigitational trickery of being able to move things from the world of public visibility into a private place. It sort of feels to me like writing. Or I guess, what I like about writing, is that paragraphs take your most personal observations, or embarrassments sometimes, fantasies, whatever they are, and you fill them up, and it feels as if you’re putting them away or you’re stowing them, you’re pocketing them. But then because of the weird and wonderful act of publishing, you’re making public what you have hidden.”
- Terry Southern’s letters are full of the humor you’d expect from him, Will Stephenson writes—but as windows into his personal life, they’re curiously opaque. “There’s something cold about Southern’s persona, in other words—he’s always in character, always on. The letters come complete with scenes and dialogue—a voice that’s arch and faux-pretentious, recalling the comedian Lord Buckley—and his habit of signing them under false names only thickens the fog. Reading the book, I wondered whether Southern would have really wanted to see it published, or whether that matters. I wondered whether I even liked Terry Southern anymore, having read it … The majority of these letters, though, have to do with the labor and economics of writing … In some ways, this is the major theme of the collection—where is the next check going to come from?”
- Alex Mar on Doreen Valiente, once dubbed “the mother of modern paganism,” who believed that witchcraft was simply a means of accessing one’s own power: “One particular image of Doreen Valiente tells two unresolvable stories at once. In this black-and-white portrait, perhaps taken in the fifties at her home in Brighton, she is, at first glance, a suburban wife seated before a pale curtain, wearing a patterned cocktail dress, a string of stones around her neck. (She was in her thirties then, her jet-black hair cut short in a wavy bob, her lips and brows painted in.) But then the photograph becomes complicated: spread before her on a table is an altar laid out with a crystal ball, a bowl, rope, candles, and incense; in one hand she holds up a large bell, in the other a ritual knife … She is the Nerd Queen, a person of rare esoteric knowledge. She is Doreen Valiente, the Mother of Modern Witchcraft … ‘I had never felt any objection to working in the nude,’ she writes. ‘On the contrary, it was fun to be free and to dance out the circle in freedom.’ ”
- I consider it part of my job to keep you abreast of quiet advances in the robot-writing community—so you should know that artificial intelligences can now write well enough to make headway in literary contests. “In Japan, a short novel co-written by an artificial intelligence program (its co-author is human) made it past the first stage of a literary contest … Humans decided the plot and character details of the novel, then entered words and phrases from an existing novel into a computer, which was able to construct a new book using that information … The prize committee didn’t disclose which of the four computer co-written entries advanced in the competition. The Japan News reports that one of the submitted books is titled The Day a Computer Writes a Novel, which ends with the sentences ‘I writhed with joy, which I experienced for the first time, and kept writing with excitement. The day a computer wrote a novel. The computer, placing priority on the pursuit of its own joy, stopped working for humans.’ ”
Wonder in the age of Matthias Buchinger.
Though he had neither arms nor legs and was only twenty-nine inches tall, Matthias Buchinger spent his sixty-five years variously as a magician, a musician, a carver, and an inventor, among other vocations. But his most astounding talents were in micrography—that is, literally, small writing. Since his death in 1740, his renown has been relegated to an obscure niche between print design and outsider art. “Wordplay: Matthias Buchinger’s Inventive Drawings from the Collection of Ricky Jay,” showing now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, rescues him from a seventeenth-century German wunderkammer of conjurers, carneys, witches and “freaks” endemic to early modernity. Accompanying the exhibition is the equally eccentric art-history and antiquarian memoir Matthias Buchinger: The Greatest Living German by Ricky Jay, Whose Peregrinations in Search of the “Little Man of Nuremberg” are herein Revealed, in which Jay, something of a sleight-of-hand artist, reconstructs Buchinger’s exotic life and oeuvre. Read More
- Profiling William T. Vollmann: “Although Vollmann these days sports the punctilious mustache of a maître d’, he still resembles the baby-faced boy wonder readers first encountered in his shocking late ’80s author photo, in which he affectlessly held a pistol to his own head … Along with the Internet and e-mail, Vollmann also foregoes cell phones, credit-card use, checking accounts, and driving.”
- On David Mitchell’s Twitter story, “The Right Sort”: “The effect of reading was not feelings of disjunction and separation but rather one of surprising connection, a sense of disappearing into the scroll and the vortex of the story.”
- From the Guardian, July 24, 1844: “a most lamentable difference exists between the witchcraft of modern romance and the witchcraft of ancient superstition.”
- “Is there any consistent relationship between a book’s quality and its sales? Or again between the press and critics’ response to a work and its sales? … As of a few days ago UK sales of all three volumes of Knausgaard work in hardback and paperback had barely topped 22,000 copies … In the US, which has a much larger market, that figure— total sales of all three volumes (minus e-books)—stood at about 32,000.”
- “As Amazon gains market share, we can no longer abide its self-proclaimed conceit that unfettered growth is invariably in the consumers’ interest … Amazon ought no longer to be permitted to behave like a parasite that hollows out its host. A serious Justice Department investigation is past due.”
- Yesterday Dracula’s castle was for sale; today it’s Ray Bradbury’s house in Los Angeles, which is on the market for a comparatively reasonable $1.5 million. “His three-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot house, built in 1937, is painted a cheery yellow. It has three bathrooms, hardwood floors, and sits on a generously sized 9,500-square-foot lot.” This concludes today’s edition of Literary Real Estate.
- The history of Red Lobster, which was recently sold to a capital equity group by its parent company, tells a hopeful but ultimately tragic tale of casual dining in postwar America.
- The short story is “having a moment,” even in the UK: “In Britain we don’t have a culture of literary magazines that routinely publish short fiction. There are dozens in the US and this has helped the form to flourish.”
- Curious new archeological discoveries in the British Virgin Islands: a witch’s bottle and some iron ammunition “magically used to stop violence.” Whether or not it succeeded is another story.
- The 1955 equivalent of online dating: “Women would approach a machine that looked a bit like an old-school automat. The machine had photos of different men, each with a short description. She would put her coins in a slot and out would pop a more detailed note, describing just what kind of guy her potential suitor was. The woman would then take her letter to a love-agent who was able to make an introduction.”
Almost everyone loves my apartment, which is tucked away in a pocket of New York I think of as Dowager Brooklyn. Indie Brooklyn, with its musicians and lofts and filmmakers, gets all the press. But Dowager Brooklyn has what I want: a good butcher, a wine shop that delivers, and a hardware store.
Still, even the hippest of my acquaintances walks through the wrought-iron hobbit door into my garden-level brownstone apartment and sighs with pleasure at the decorative marble fireplace, the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, the ivy-walled garden in the back. I think they half believe me when I joke that Edith Wharton drops by for tea.
Inevitably, someone asks, “How did you get this place?’’
Sometimes, I tell them the truth: witchcraft.