Friday, January 30, 2009

Writers ask Post to retain Book World

From the Associated Press:

Historians Robert Dallek and Sean Wilentz and author-essayist Barbara Ehrenreich are among the more than 100 writers who have signed an open letter asking The Washington Post not to shut down its stand-alone Sunday Book World section.

"Few forums besides Book World introduce so many readers to so many important new works of literature and thought each week," the letter reads. "As part of one of our most venerated papers, it carries prestige and influence. It enriches our culture with its thoughtful criticism."

Other signees of the letter sent Thursday include fiction writers Roxana Robinson and Peter Straub, and historians David Greenberg, David Garrow and Douglas Brinkley.

Citing a need to cut costs, the Post announced Wednesday that it was ending regular publication of Book World, eliminating one of the few stand-alone book review sections left among daily newspapers. The Post said it will review books in its Style and Outlook sections. The Book World will publish its final weekly edition Feb. 15.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

RIP Washington Post Book World

It's long been rumored that Book World, the engaging Sunday supplement to The Washington Post, would be eliminated. Yesterday, the rumors were confirmed. Post editors announced they were dropping Book World, one of the few remaining stand-alone book sections.

The Post said the change will take effect February 22nd. (I'm not at all certain whether that means February 22nd will be the final issue of Book World or whether that will be the first Sunday without the insert.)

Post editor Rachel Shea said, "It's disappointing . . . but it's not worth gnashing our teeth about too much."

Perhaps, perhaps not. I always looked forward to the Sunday Post, primarily because of the presence of Book World. I will seriously consider canceling my subscription. Almost all the other news within the Post is available sooner via the Internet or television.

Book coverage in the Post will be shifted to the Style section and to a revamped Outlook section. Outlook is the Post's editorial section. Executive editor Marcus Brauchli said because Style and Outlook have higher readership than Book world, the paper's book coverage will reach more people through those sections.

I'm skeptical of Brauchli's assertion that the the book coverage will reach more people because those sections are more widely read. Non-readers will do exactly what they've always done with Book World. Skip it.

I also question Brauchli's statement that the Post values coverage of books and literature. That's the not the message he's sending.

Granted, Book World has been poorly supported by publishers and other bookish advertisers. But the readers are now the losers, and journalism is poorer for the decision as well.

The Post does plan to publish the occasional special section -- focusing on such themes as children's literature and summer reading. The revised Outlook will include a column by Post book critic Jonathan Yardley. Style will carry columns by book critic Michael Dirda.

Here's the complete story from today's Washington Post.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On Book Blogs

I scan about a dozen book blogs each day. Several are written by major newspapers. I highly recommend Jacket Copy from the Los Angeles Times. I've found it to be the most readable and entertaining of the blogs produced by newspapers.

On the opposite end of the scale is Paper Cuts from The New York Times. I've never warmed to this blog, which seems rather staid and has a penchant for extended riffs on music, bands, songs, etc. recommended by authors.

There's also Short Stack from The Washington Post, The Book Room from The Chicago Sun-Times and Between the Covers from The Miami Herald.

I highly recommend The Book Bench from The New Yorker. It bounces between chatty tidbits and more extended pieces. For example, Ligaya Mishan has been reading and blogging on Roberto Bolano's 2666.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Updike is dead at 76

John Updike, one of America's most celebrated novelists is dead at 76. You can read The New York Times article here.

Gaiman featured in articles in New York, Washington and L.A.

Neil Gaiman is much in the news today after the announcement yesterday that his The Graveyard Book won the American Library Association's Newberry Medal. In The Washington Post a story on Gaiman, In Fine Spirits, leads the Style section. He is also featured in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times' book blog, Jacket Copy.

Gaiman is a frequent participant in The National Book Festival on the Mall in Washington. And he's popular, annually attracting the longest lines of the event. A few years ago Gaiman signed for an hour without seeming to reduce the line of fans. He left, I think to speak and perhaps to grab a bit of lunch, only to return in the afternoon and to continue signing for another hour.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Two book-related articles in this morning's Washington Post. The first is the story of a George Mason University professor who operates a publishing company from his home in Alexandria. I admire his passion and his persistence.

The second story is Top Picks for Young Readers. There should be no surprise that Stephenie Meyer tops the list. Rick Riordan is also on it. I enjoy Riordan's mystery novels.

Also in this morning news: the National Book Critics Circle has announced the finalists for its 2008 awards. The fiction nominees include Marilynne Robinson's Home, Roberto Bolano's 2666 and Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

You can never be too thin, have too much money or too many books

This falls under the category, you know you did things as a right as parent when . . .

My daughter sent me the following:

In 1346, Francesco Petrarch, an Italian scholar and the "father of humanism" wrote:

"I cannot get enough books. It may be that I have already more than I need, but it is with books as it is with other things: success in acquisition spurs the desire to get still more."

It was true in 1346 and it's still true in 2009.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Read Erdrich's The Porcupine Year and Armitage's Sir Gawain

5. The Right Madness, James Crumley. Fiction 1-9 289

6. The Porcupine Year, Louise Erdrich. Juvenile Fiction 1-10 182

7. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Simon Armitage. Poem 1-12 198

I’ve been playing a lot of computer games lately. The kids bought them for me for Christmas. The oldest is in the industry; has been for the last 10 years. Peggle. Portal. Left 4 Dead. I am obsessed with Portal.

You’re not going to make your goal for 2009, the wife said.

Fool her, I thought. Hey, I’m ahead of schedule, I told her. Ahead of 2008.

Three more books. Two I liked a lot.

First, Crumley’s pulp-ish, noir-ish The Right Madness. Lots of sex, violence and drugs. Guess, I don’t like this genre as much as I thought. It’s so . . . unrelentingly. The alcohol consumption alone would kill Sughrue. Is it too much to ask for ONE character with some small, redeeming quality? Pass on this one.

The Porcupine Year is the third in a series by Louise Erdrich about Omakayas, a 12-year-old Ojibwe girl. I like Erdrich’s writing a lot. This particular book is classed as juvenile fiction, which might cause a lot of adults to pass it by. That’s unfortunate, this is good work.

The best of writing for children balances strong characters with strong narrative. It’s straight forward, dealing with love and loss, with human frailty and that awkward transition from child to adult. Erdrich does it about as well as it can be done.

The Porcupine Year is tender and funny and raises a sense of indignation at the insult – in the word’s strongest sense – imposed on the Ojibwe, in general, and Omakayas’ family, in particular.

If you have a family member of 8 to 12 years of age put this book in their hands, but only after you’ve read it your self.

Simon Armitage’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a wonder. It’s muscular and lively, full of power, yet bursting with an almost palpable delight in the English language. God, I loved this book.

As with most poetry it’s best read aloud. But please read this one.

Reading report featured in Times and Post

A report from The National Endowment for the Arts that fiction reading is "up" among adults received prominent play in both The Washington Post and The New York Times.

"Well, I guess we're all looking for escape," observed a friend when I mentioned the report.

Too true.

Friday, January 09, 2009

'09 Reading Update

2009 got off to a slow start. A few days before the New Year I drove to Kentucky to spend time with family and that put a serious crimp in my reading. The result was that I didn't finish a book until the new year was four days old. Still, I quickly got into the flow.

I recommend George McGovern's Abraham Lincoln and -- if you are a runner -- Personal Record, A Love Affair with Running by Rachel Toor.

McGovern's biography is part of Times Book's American Presidents Series, which I have consistently recommended. Brief -- almost always fewer than 200 pages -- biographies that are universally well-told and well-written. The opening eight to nine pages stand as one of the finest summaries of Lincoln that I have read.

Seldom has a writer captured the experience of the average run as well as Toor in her book, published by the University of Nebraska Press. It is combines memoir and tutorial in an engaging, entertaining fashion.

Walter Mosley's The Right Mistake was odd. It's readable, Mosley is always readable, but I am not certain where he was trying to go with this book.


1. Abraham Lincoln, George McGovern. Biography 1-4 155

2. Mucho Mojo, Joe Lansdale. Mystery 1-4 308

3. Personal Record, A Love Affair with Running, Rachel Toor.

Running 1-5 163

4. The Right Mistake, Walter Mosley. Fiction 1-7 269