Tonight, the National Book Critics Circle finalists will be announced. Among the nominees is one of my favorite contemporary novelists, Richard Powers, whom the Chicago Tribune catches up with. Powers, the Tribune notes, really talks in the same cerebral way as his books. That isn’t really a revelation for Powers fans. But what’s really hilarious about the interview is how the Tribune sexes Powers up: “His pale green eyes resemble chips of stained glass. His fingers are long and thin. His hair is dark brown, with the occasional thread of gray, and it falls in a thick curtain, without so much as a hint of curl. Powers, in fact, seems composed entirely of straight lines and right angles: He’s tall and lean, and he moves with the efficient grace of an animated T-square.”
What next? David Foster Wallace described as “a bracing, tobacco-chomping stallion” for GQ?
Even so, it’s good to see Powers getting this kind of major coverage months after his last novel, The Time of Our Singing, was issued quietly in hardback (and all this is a month or two after the trade paperback edition).
The Book Babes respond to the petition. Margo writes that “literary conversation has been left too long in the hands of an elite whose approach is too stuffy for my taste.” I couldn’t agree more. Which is why it is every literary journalists’s duty to maintain literary standards that can be imparted to more people. It’s taking the good aspects of the Oprah Book Club idea and raising the bar a bit, getting people excited about books without coming across as a pretentious or ditsy ass. People want to read, and they want to read good stuff. They’re always on the lookout for new authors. And the most ardent readers hope to find books and ideas that challenge them. These two have managed to get away with soft interviews with Norman Mailer and Joe Eszterhas, have perpetuated largely uninformed ideas of books, and kept up profiles of popular and middlebrow books that people would read regardless. And that is why I object to these self-described bimbos.
Again, I urge people to sign the petition. Get two people at Poynter who know what the hell they’re talking about and who won’t devote precious column-inches to whether a middle-aged woman can be a babe or not. Which wasn’t the point of Mark’s petition.
[UPDATE: Comrade Mark responds in pointed and hilarious form.]
Years ago, a manuscript thought to be authored by a white abolitionist turned out to be written by former slave Harriet Jacobs. Literary scholar Jean Fagan Yellin published the MS (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself) and the book sold 200,000 copies. Yellin’s getting a grant from the Ford Foundation to publish all of Jacobs’ papers.
Two books about the notorious John Gardner are compared.
Write a well-regarded novel in Japan, and get stalked.
And digital tools are being used to restore texts from a Georgian monastery.