Books
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My Quest for an Introductory Understanding of Modern Economic Theory

It is a surprise, I think, that evangelical Christianity has yet to announce the obvious. At long last, after two millennia of false alarms, we are witnessing clear and unassailable portents of the end times. Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty, a 700-page book of economic theory, translated, from the French, was, for weeks, the bestselling book on Amazon. The book’s publisher, an imprint of the Harvard University Press, has run out of copies. Amazon said that I, a Prime member, would receive the book by June 6th. When I called my closest Barnes and Noble, the lady on the phone laughed. In liberal Austin, of course, [...]

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The Joys Of The George Saunders Style Sheet

Tenth Of December, George Saunders' first collection of stories in six years, comes out January 8, 2013—if you missed it in The New Yorker, you can read the title story here. Below is the style sheet used in-house by the book's editors and production team. In the lists of preferred spellings for words and names (Death (personified), de-elfify, doinking) and other guidelines comes a reminder of what makes Saunders so much fun to read. Remember: Hyphenate compounds made up of nouns of equal value: "elf-baby" (97).

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What It Was Like Working For Allen Ginsberg: A Chat With His Assistant-Turned-Biographer

By 1989, Allen Ginsberg was as famous as a living poet could ever hope to be in this country. Out of his East Village apartment, the “Howl” author continued to write poetry, entertained friends and admirers, oversaw his legacy, and planned his many travels. Writer Steve Finbow, an Englishman spending time in the States in an effort to outrun his dissertation, somehow fell into the thick of it—he became Allen Ginsberg’s research assistant. Twenty years later, with a writing career of his own secured, Finbow signed on to write a biography of the poet for the UK publisher Reaktion. Allen Ginsberg comes out this week in the United States [...]

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How Shane Jones Fought Second Novel Syndrome

Shane Jones’ new novel, Daniel Fights a Hurricane, was published last week by Penguin. Like his first novel—Light Boxes, in which a town bands together to fight the month of February—Daniel Fights a Hurricane centers on a force of nature. The hurricane takes many shapes, including a mob of angry children, a monster with sharp teeth, and the madness that may or may not be filling Daniel's head with visions. The book is filled with surreal, hallucinogenic imagery ranging from the terrifying to the hilarious—there are “banana bombs," rotten bananas thrown like grenades—that work to create a sinister, modern fairy tale, but one written for the demented adult [...]

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Famous Novels Take Two: Judging The Sequels

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When I was little, I had a typewriter my parents got at a garage sale for about three dollars, plus the cost in shoe leather of tracking down a place to buy those awful inky ribbon things. And, being seven or eight, I knew that there was no point in writing my own book, because it wouldn't be any good, so I instead attempted to copy out The Lord of the Rings. I never got more than a third of a chapter in, due to my belief that any typo [...]

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The Threat Of Psychic Attacks! Heidi Julavits Explains It All To You

Heidi Julavits’s fourth novel, The Vanishers, sits at the perfect intersection of cerebral challenge and guilty pleasure. In the world of The Vanishers, psychic academies exist to foster talents like astral projection and mental telepathy; Julavits’ characters express hostility and attempt to dominate one another by way of psychic attacks that manifest in a horrifying array of physical symptoms (virulent rashes, bleeding gums, gastrointestinal distress). Across all of her novels, Julavits has explored women’s rivalries and what it means to want to disappear and reinvent oneself elsewhere in a different guise. The Vanishers calls to mind Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled and William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, and the novel’s [...]

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A Conversation With Novelist Helen DeWitt

A friend of mine describes herself as a member of “the secret cult of the Samurai”: those who came across copies of Helen DeWitt’s novel The Last Samurai (2000) and fell in love with it and went on to buy countless copies to press into the hands of people they knew would feel the same way. I can’t even remember my first encounter with the book, it so immediately became a part of my interior landscape: The Last Samurai sits alongside Rebecca West’s The Fountain Overflows and James Baldwin’s Just Above My Head in my mental grouping of books that depict the simultaneous richness and dreadfulness of the lives of [...]

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"Too Much Like Reality": Writer Frank Bill On Violence, Meth And Work

Have you ever gotten punched in the face? I have not. Nor have I ever punched anyone in the face, or seriously wanted to punch anyone in the face, or even been that close to many faces that were getting punched. The whole enterprise of face punching strikes me as both dumb and, if I'm honest, pretty terrifying. So I didn't expect to spend much time with Frank Bill's blood-sodden bone-crunch of a debut novel, Donnybrook (out March 5), one of the most unrepentantly, gleefully violent books I've ever come across. It's about a bunch of loathsome redneck thugs who, while feuding over a stolen batch of meth, rendezvous [...]

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"Silly, Funny Stories About Really Serious Things": A Chat With Writer Jon Ronson

Bestselling British author and documentary filmmaker Jon Ronson has found his way into the weirdest corners of society. His first book, Them: Adventures with Extremists, found him searching for the secret elite group that many extremists believe rule the world. His subsequent books, The Men Who Stare at Goats (which was made into a movie) and The Psychopath Test, explored, respectively, the odder elements of military techniques and mental disorders.

His latest book, Lost at Sea, which is out now, is a collection of Ronson's magazine and newspapers articles from the last 15 years. Recently, I got the chance to chat with him about the journalism he's [...]

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A Conversation With D.T. Max About His New David Foster Wallace Biography

In 2009, D.T. Max published a long piece about David Foster Wallace, and his suicide, in The New Yorker. The project grew into the biography Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace. In the final months of the book's completion, through a stroke of incredible luck, I had the opportunity to help Max as a research assistant. Biography, it turns out, is complicated, wrenching work, particularly when your subject inspires the kind of devotion Wallace can, and where the end of a life comes in the form his did. With the book's release today, I wanted to talk to Max about the process [...]

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The Perils Of Storytelling As A Stranger: A Chat With Tom Scocca

Tom Scocca's Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future has just come out in paperback. This distinctive American's-eye-view of China's capital is bracingly cerebral without didacticism, intimate and touching without the slightest trace of "self-realization." I loved it.

Maria Bustillos: There is so much I want to know about your book, and about China. How long has it been since you were last there? How has the book been received? How old is [your son] Mack, [who was born in China], now?

Tom Scocca: We haven't been back since I was doing the epilogue, in May 2010. The book's been received pretty well, I think. Or [...]

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"The Culture Decides What It Wants": Sheila Heti on Writing, Youth and Beauty

I don't know a single person who wouldn't benefit from reading Sheila Heti's new novel, How Should a Person Be?, a rumination on art, friendship and the other major questions of existence. This "novel from life" features a character named Sheila, who lives (as the author does) in Toronto. In the beginning of the book, Sheila's friends Margaux and Sholem, both painters, decide to have an "ugly painting competition," to see who can create the ugliest painting, a process which proves more difficult than expected. In the meantime, Sheila struggles with the challenges of her friendship with Margaux, her inability to write a commissioned play about women, and a [...]

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Quit Your Job! A Q&A With Actress-Turned-Pot Farmer Heather Donahue

Heather Donahue, best known as the actress from The Blair Witch Project, has written a book. Now this happens all the time, the once-famous-people-writing-books thing. And often the result is some cookie-cutter “memoir” of which the kindest remark you might make is that it has paid some deserving freelancer’s rent for six months. But Heather Donahue’s story caught my eye, regardless, because her book, Growgirl, was said to be about her quitting acting to grow pot. Medical marijuana, of course, all sanctioned by California law, but pot nonetheless, and, being self-interestedly attracted to stories of people who do about-faces in their careers in their early 30s, I was intrigued. [...]

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Tobias Wolff And The First Novels That Writers Wish Were Forgotten

Out of pique or posturing authors occasionally disparage their early work. Saul Bellow referred to his pre-Augie output, Dangling Man and The Victim, as his Masters and PhD, respectively; “I find them plaintive, sometimes querulous,” he told The Paris Review. Anthony Burgess, 23 years and 30-some-odd novels after the publication of A Clockwork Orange, groused, “The book I am best known for, or only known for, is a novel I am prepared to repudiate,” and impugned it as “a jeu d'esprit knocked off for money in three weeks[.]” John Steinbeck was only slightly more charitable towards Cup of Gold: A life of Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer, with Occasional [...]

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A Conversation About Books and Money

We weren't quite done with Friday's "who knows?!" dialogue about the best way to link to books on our (or your) website, and we asked Emily Gould to stop by and clarify a few things.

Nicole: Hi Emily, we've been talking about that thing you wrote, in case you wanted to flesh anything out.

Emily: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to respond! I'm kicking myself now for not explicitly explaining, in that post, why I don't think it's a good thing when sites like The Hairpin participate in the Amazon Affiliates program. It's not at all because I don't approve of making money — wow, do I [...]

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Quit Your Job (But For The Right Reason)! A Chat With Writer Jami Attenberg

Jami Attenberg's The Middlesteins, which hits bookstores today, tells the story of a Midwestern family whose matriarch is binge-eating herself to death. There's a lot of talk about the obesity crisis in the country, but it tends to happen along one of two set tracks: either accompanying stock footage of headless fat people, or else coming from sinewy trainers barking at the imagined laziness of their frightened charges. It's fair to say that people are ready for another kind of story, and The Middlesteins has the potential to fill that gap. It isn't a polemic about the sagacity of good nutrition, or about personal foolishness. It's about how and [...]

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Unrealistically Depicted Human All Too Human

"Kathy Zeitoun said she considers Eggers' book a faithful and accurate portrait of the couple's shared ordeal during Katrina. But she believes she must publicly shed light on her ex-husband's violent side, which she says has emerged in recent years. 'I'm not going to be quiet about it anymore because being quiet puts him in a position to do it again,' she said." —Well, this is very sad. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, the protagonist of Dave Eggers' account of Hurricane Katrina and the atrocious government response that followed, is in jail for assaulting his wife. Zeitoun is beautifully written, and gives an invaluable look at a city in the [...]

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How Not To Die Of Rabies! A Chat With Bill Wasik And Monica Murphy

Is there a disease more sensationally gruesome, more thrillingly disturbing than rabies? The macabre virus, which has haunted the imaginations (and nightmares) of nearly every human culture for thousands of years, is the subject of a new nonfiction book by Wired journalist Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica Murphy, a husband-and-wife team perfectly matched to tackle the cultural history of this most dreaded of zoonotic infections.

In Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus, Wasik and Murphy explore rabies' influence on such diverse subjects as immunology, 19th-century celebrity, religion, and, of course, zombies, werewolves, and vampires. It's also a history of the relationship between humans and dogs—with [...]

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What Books Make You Cringe To Remember?

First book crushes: The feelings are so strong and obsessive. The books seem smart, sophisticated, cool; the characters in them say and do such great things, they seem like guides sent to teach you how to be that way too. But then the crush goes, and the object of one's former affection becomes an embarrassment—or at least the memory of you quoting them so seriously does. To explore this phenomenon, we asked an assortment of literary-inclined people to revisit the books they loved back in the day, the ones that make them absolutely cringe today.

Sam Anderson, New York Times Magazine

Oh man, I suspect you're going to [...]

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Ladies, Books; Books, Ladies

In your twenties you just kind of chug along,” Eileen Myles says, “dredging up feelings as you go.” You “consider your behavior just art, grist for the mill.” So when I said “it’s over,” I was talking about the grist. Goodbye, mill.

Ladies we like teaming up and whatnot! The Emily Books book-of-the-month club is putting out Eileen Myles' Inferno today. (You can still buy it in actual "paper" form here.) And here are some thoughts on the book today. You will remember Myles either quite warmly or angrily from her work right here and also here.