Woe betide our republic of letters! The shadowy culture arbiters who serve on the Pulitzer Prize board have withheld their favor from the field of American novels published in 2011. Booksellers, writers and critics have been up in arms ever since news of the non-award broke in mid-April. In a cri de coeur published in the New York Times’s op-ed pages, novelist Ann Patchett—who also runs an independent bookstore in Nashville—decried the committee’s abstention as a cause for “indignation” and, indeed, “rage.”
“I can’t imagine there was ever a year when we were so in need of the excitement the [fiction Pulitzer] creates in readers,” Ms. Patchett wrote.
It’s easy to miss, amid Ms. Patchett’s vehemence, the patent condescension that prize-dependent marketing visits upon American readers. In her distinctly arid account of readerly engagement, news of a prestigious laurel is what’s needed to generate “the buzz,” as she puts it, “that is so often lacking.” But the question is far better turned on its head: If an entire industry must rely on aloof prize boards to gin up sustained interest, then the trouble would seem to be the industry itself, rather than the prize boards or the consumers.
When, earlier this month, The Daily published Michaelangelo Matos’s oral history of oral histories, some observers thought our society had reached the final destination in self-referential excess. They were wrong.
Who really wrote William Shakespeare’s plays? Theories abound as scholars, dramaturges and researchers have accused the Bard of Avon of perpetrating a massive hoax through the centuries and boiled down the suspects. Now a lavish but somewhat tedious costume epic called Anonymous investigates each and every culprit in what often seems like double the time it must have taken to write the 37 plays, 154 sonnets and numerous collected poems of the Shakespeare oeuvre in the first place. It’s an exhausting film, but worth your stamina.
Shakespeare may be the most performed playwright in the history of letters, but in 400 years not one original script has been found in his own handwriting. When he died at 52, survived by an illiterate wife and daughter, he left behind in his will no mention of a single manuscript. In Anonymous, an obvious labor of love for director Roland Emmerich, the culprit is identified as Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, a wealthy aristocrat who could not attach his real name to works of lusty romance, tragedy and political intrigue because they lampooned prominent members of the court.
Every novel by Jeffrey Eugenides reads as if it were repudiating the one that came before. His second book, Middlesex, published nine years after his first, was a sprawling, intergenerational tale told in the capable and likable voice of a hermaphrodite named Cal; whereas The Virgin Suicides, his 1993 debut, was a dark, compact novel narrated in a highly stylized, formal register by a chorus of neighborhood boys turned middle-aged men. A sample size of two is hardly enough to indicate a pattern (or the lack of one), but with the publication of The Marriage Plot (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 416 pages, $28.00), one notices immediately how much it differs from those earlier novels, both of which suggest the story and the tone up front, on the first page, in the first sentence.
Socialite Alexandra Lebenthal’s book The Recessionistas has been optioned by Sony for potential production: Ms. Lebenthal tells Page Six that she hopes Gwyneth Paltrow, Drew Barrymore, Brooke Shields, and Bradley Cooper will star.
The Observer reported in 2009 that Ms. Lebenthal began writing on the urging of New York Social Diary Read More
The Observer receives pitches for various concepts and products and events during its busy days. But rarely have we received a pitch for reviewing a book more compelling–if less convincing–than for this memoir. The pitch email began: “What do Gene Hackman, Steven Seagal, Ashley Judd and the Backstreet Boys have in common? Linnie Delmar’s Read More
When David Foster Wallace hanged himself with a black belt and his arms bound by duct tape on the patio of his home in Claremont, Calif., on Sept. 12, 2008, he had published a history of the concept of infinity, three collections of short stories, two books of essays and two novels. The last of Read More
Ceaselessly Into the past
Last night, Poets & Writers hosted its annual benefit dinner in honor of Farrar, Straus and Giroux publisher Jonathan Galassi, poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan, and authors John Grisham and Elizabeth Nunez. The gala was held in Capitale, the Chinatown enclave. In an upper room, removed from the hubbub downstairs, where hundreds milled about in the Read More
Those familiar with director Baz Luhrmann’s fixation with excess had every reason to look forward to his upcoming adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Sure, the subtle analysis of class warfare, sexuality, and post-war mores that enhance F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterwork will probably be excised, but who cares! Filtered through Baz’s indulgence-happy approach to the cinema, Read More
The Observer was sitting at his desk on Saturday afternoon. He clicked the tab for Twitter on his Web browser. Five Tweets down on his Timeline he saw a Tweet by @Beach_Sloth that read, http://thoughtcatalog.com/2011/tao-lin-and-megan-boyle-of-mdma-films-are-married/ @xsssy @heusar @tao_lin @meganboyle Congrats newly weds!
The Observer thought, “It’s good that Tao and Megan got Read More