Books on the subway are increasingly like birds in the jungle: colorful, hard-to-spot, and of obsessive interest to the lonely and peculiar. Here are one week’s worth of sightings and speculations.
Monday, 5:20PM, Brooklyn-bound C train, 23rd Street:
Facts: Thin man with bushy black beard, in his late twenties or early thirties, wearing a tight shirt buttoned all the way to the throat, purple and yellow striped socks. In his lap are Cloud Atlas and The Stranger, both closed. They remain closed, almost defiantly, for twenty minutes. He’s not even looking at his phone; the empty space in front of his eyes is, apparently, preferable to reading these books. [...]
"[S]kimmers and speed-readers did much worse at answering comprehension questions afterward, especially ones about specifics or technical material," but nobody has anything super-valuable to say anymore anyway so it doesn't really make a difference how much of it you retain; why not get yourself an app that will help you "read" more quickly? The odds are that anything flashing by you on a screen will be for the most part ignored and even more importantly ignorable so whatever helps you breeze through the barrage of verbiage at this point is probably worth it. If you can just [...]
Between 1918 and 1928, Alexander Vasilievich Chayanov (1888-1937) wrote and published (at his own expense) five short Gothic-fantastic tales in separate volumes with print runs of no more than 300 copies, mostly under the whimsical pseudonym “Botanist X.” In his lifetime and until the 1990s, Chayanov was better known as an expert in agricultural economics, particularly peasant labor – and his objections to Stalin’s program of forced collectivization caused his arrest in 1930, exile from Moscow to Kazakhstan, and eventual execution.
Have you read Alexander Chayanov? Me neither! He is among the variety of things you may discover at Writers No One Reads Dot Tumblr Dot Com.
Yesterday we cornered Brooklyn Book Festival panelists and asked them: who do you like among the younger generation of writers? Some of them had great answers!
Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
Gosh, the younger generation being under what? [“That’s up to you.”] You know, I’m a big fan of Sheila Heti. Does she count as the younger generation? She’s over thirty, though, she’s 35. [She’ll be 37 on Christmas.] Turn it off a for second, I just have to think! Because I’ve been mostly reading old and dead people, lately, so it takes me a minute to—turn that off! [The recorder is turned off. Then turned back on.] There’s a [...]
You know what? I don't want to hear you say "I've got nothing to read" for a solid two weeks at least, okay?
• And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman
• What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
• A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
• Something on a Kindle
• The Baltimore Sun (5 instances)
The forthcoming big books of 2012 include Katherine Boo, with, at last, that nonfiction book (the blurbs are wild!) and Marilynne Robinson—though with essays, not, of course, a new novel. There are a couple of other solid books on the docket, but honestly? 2012 seems a little light in the publishing loafers, compared to 2011: it looks like a line-up of serious but not particularly exciting 2nd and 4th novels and also lots of posthumous archive-wrangling. The upside of the list from this side of the year: maybe the best books of 2012 will be unexpected, all surprises and weirdo first novels and translations!