University of North Carolina Press; Knopf; Little, Brown; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; G.P. Putnam's Sons
He doesn’t need another necktie. With Father’s Day just two weeks away, it’s time to think about what to give Dad. But I confess the usual gift guides, with their 1950s golf-and-whiskey vibe, make me cringe. And then there's the other extreme: The Wall Street Journal just posted a Father's Day gift guide that includes a Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos clock for $9,600. (Sorry, Dad – you're getting a book.) Here’s my highly idiosyncratic list of suggestions:
- “Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue,” by Adrian Miller. By law, every Father’s Day gift guide must include a barbecue cookbook. But this is actually an illustrated work of culinary history revealing the contributions of Black men and women — with 22 barbecue recipes (review).
- “The Double Life of Bob Dylan: A Restless, Hungry Feeling (1941-1966),” by Clinton Heylin. The first of a planned two-part biography of the Nobel Prize-winning singer-songwriter (review).
- “Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service,” by Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig. A shocking investigation of chaos and incompetence inside the elite organization charged with protecting our leaders with their lives (review).
- “Red Widow,” by Alma Katsu. In this thriller written by a former CIA analyst, there may be a Putin mole in Langley (review).
- “Birds of North America,” from the National Audubon Society. The must-have guide for any birder, redesigned and reissued this year with more than 3,500 color photographs.
- “The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain,” by Annie Murphy Paul, a science writer who will change the way you think about thinking (essay).
- “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America,” by Clint Smith. This isn’t just a work of history, it’s an intimate, active exploration of how we’re still constructing and distorting our history (review).
- “Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy, and the New Battleground of the Cold War,” by Jeff Shesol. My dad worked in the space program in the '60s, so I've had my eye on this book for weeks (review).
- “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future,” by Elizabeth Kolbert. A troubling examination of the elaborate and possibly futile efforts human beings are making to repair all the damage that we’re doing to the Earth (review).
- “How to Write a Mystery,” edited by Lee Child with Laurie R. King. Is Dad always grumbling about how he could write a mystery novel? This collection of essays by the best crime masters will get him off the couch and into the library with the candlestick.
Julianne Moore in “Lisey’s Story," by Stephen King, which starts streaming today on Apple TV.
I wasn’t late to Stephen King, but I was late to admit it. “Carrie” and “Salem’s Lot,” King’s first and second novels — published in the mid '70s — scared the bejeezus out of me. But as he kept turning out bestsellers, I kept looking down my nose. When the National Book Foundation gave a lifetime achievement award to King in 2003, I agreed with my snob-hero Harold Bloom, who called the honor “another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life.”
But then came “Lisey’s Story.” To me, King’s 2006 novel was a revelation, an extraordinary reflection on marriage, grief and the creative process. Inspired by a brush with death after King contracted pneumonia, the novel imagines the struggles of a widow once married to a famous horror writer (review). It went on to win a Bram Stoker Award, and King has called it the favorite of his many novels.
Now, 15 years later, “Lisey’s Story” has finally been adapted for film. The miniseries, which starts today on Apple TV, stars Julianne Moore and Clive Owen as her late husband. Given how close King felt to the material, he decided to write all eight episodes himself. “If somebody was going to mess it up,” he said in a statement, “nobody’s going to mess it up but me.”
The early responses have been mixed, but of all the things that scare Stephen King, a bad review isn’t one of them.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI)
Publishers survived last year’s crisis with remarkable resiliency, but old and new threats are gathering force. That was the message at this week’s virtual conference of the Association of American Publishers. AAP President and CEO Maria Pallante noted several concerns:
- Copyrights remain difficult to enforce against online pirates, who illegally post books across the web. AAP is also suing the Internet Archive, a nonprofit based in San Francisco that offers free access to millions of books.
- Several states are trying to force down the “special” prices that publishers charge public libraries for e-books and audiobooks. (The e-book you buy for $15 costs a library about three times that much.) The AAP considers state efforts to break that two-tier arrangement a challenge to publishers’ business and a violation of federal copyright law.
- State governments are moving to compete with education publishers by funding “open educational resources” — free, online textbooks that can be accessed by anyone anywhere.
- Big tech companies (i.e. Google and Amazon) continue to exercise extraordinary power in the publishing market, cramping publishers’ ability to compete and reach readers. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar emphasized that last point when she appeared at the AAP meeting to accept the group’s Distinguished Public Service award. She is the author of a new book called “Antitrust: Taking on Monopoly Power from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age." “There are serious concerns about consolidation in the publishing industry due to a series of mergers and acquisitions that combine major publishing houses,” Klobuchar said. She noted that this consolidation has not been good for most authors, "whose earnings have fallen by 42 percent over the past 10 years.” She went on to highlight legislation she has introduced to strengthen antitrust laws, embolden enforcement agencies and increase competition.
A more nuanced message came from keynote speaker Brad Stone, the author, most recently, of “Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire” (review). He told the AAP, “I don't think antitrust regulators are going to roll back the clock and change the balance of power in book publishing.”
But all is not lost. Stone pointed to several garbled summaries of his own book that are being sold on Amazon — examples of how easily disreputable third parties exploit the company’s automated market system. That’s a symptom of a larger problem, Stone said, and an opportunity. Publishers and booksellers capable of establishing personal, non-algorithmic relationships with readers can take advantage of Amazon’s bigness and provide a wholly different kind of service.
(Jose Elgueta for The Washington Post)
As a student, I cheated at summer reading; as a teacher, I hated summer reading; and as a parent, I ignored summer reading. The whole enterprise always felt poisoned with obligation, which is the last feeling I want associated with books.
My wife and I let our daughters listen to and read whatever they wanted, even during years when what they wanted was really putrid. But that investment in their freedom paid off: They both adore books.
This is the only parenting advice I feel confident giving: Let your kids develop their own literary tastes at their own speed. Take them to the library, let them see you reading for fun and fill your house with as many books as you can afford. (Yes, graphic novels are real books. No, romance novels will not corrupt them.) Especially this summer, after 14 months of lockdown, the last thing we need is a generation of young people who think reading is a boring chore.
Middle-grade readers might enjoy the cool list from the KidsPost Summer Book Club. The theme this year is “True Friends.” KidsPost editor Christina Barron writes, “We want to celebrate stories that show just how important friendship is.” You can see the full list here.
Shakespeare's Globe in London. (File photo by Ron Charles/The Washington Post)
Is there no play, to ease the anguish of a torturing hour?
Shakespeare’s Globe, the modern-day reconstruction of the 1599 playhouse in London, almost went bankrupt during the covid-19 lockdown. Fortunately, the nonprofit organization received emergency funding from the U.K. government, and the theater ramped up its online offerings to bring in additional revenue. But what the Globe really needs — and wants — is live patrons watching live actors.
Tonight, finally, the play’s the thing! After 14 months, the Globe reopens this evening with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which is the perfect choice for a world waking from a long nightmare. Groundlings will have to sit and remain socially distant until July 4, but it’s a start. And if you can’t make it to London, you can watch the production online June 5 at 2 p.m. ET (details).
Meanwhile, here in Washington, Shakespeare Theatre Company is staging what may be the only bipartisan act of the year. On Monday, “Will on the Hill” will bring together members of Congress and professional actors for a night of raucous Shakespearean silliness to raise money for the theater’s education programs. In this original sci-fi story by Nat Cassidy, a time machine goes haywire, sending a group of politicians into Shakespeare’s plays. (If only we could choose the politicians and the plays. . . .) Among the good sports treading the boards, you’ll see Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) along with about 20 representatives from both sides of the aisle. The fun starts June 7 at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch this streaming performance online by making a donation of any amount (details).
The new Southwest Library in Washington, D.C. opened on May 15, 2021. (Photo courtesy of DC Public Library)
This week marks the 125th anniversary of the public library system in the nation’s capital, and Washington recently celebrated the opening of a gorgeous new $18 million branch in Southwest D.C. But across the city and the country, the situation is not so grand. The American Library Association notes that the average library building is more than 40 years old. After decades of neglect and delayed maintenance, the country’s 17,000 library locations need an estimated $32 billion for construction and rehabilitation, according to the ALA.
The Build America's Libraries Act (S. 127/H.R. 1581), currently in the House and Senate, would provide $5 billion for long-term improvements to library facilities around the country. If you care about the health of public libraries, let your representatives in Washington know.
(Courtesy of Edelweiss BookFest)
In the Olden Days, thousands of publishers, authors, agents, booksellers, librarians and even reviewers used to gather once a year in New York’s Javits Center for a soul-crushing orgy of literary marketing called BookExpo. I would plod around the cavernous convention center for days, grabbing books until the pain in my sloped shoulders grew so excruciating that I'd resent the tote bags gathering on me like barnacles and finally abandon them in the food court with a half-eaten corn dog.
Penguin Random House, Hachette and other wealthy publishers created lavish bazaars to show off their upcoming books like fancy handbags at Nordstrom. Their buzziest authors would drop in to chat, sign galleys and let us take selfies with them. (I thought I was particularly charming, but it’s possible that Jamie Lee Curtis doesn’t remember our encounter as well as I do.)
If you weren’t paying attention, you risked wandering off toward the dark sides of the convention center, into the slough of strange indie publishers determined not to admit they paid too much for booths no one would see. There lurked crystal healers offering free aura readings, elderly fitness gurus trying to ply us with sugar-free gumdrops, and men in funky smelling dragon costumes.
As much as I hated BookExpo, I kind of loved it, too. It was a chance to spot the next blockbusters and see publicists I emailed with all year. But alas, BookExpo was a casualty of the covid-19 pandemic. Safety concerns forced the convention online last year, and this year it died out entirely.
Edelweiss BookFest is one of the new virtual conferences trying to fill at least part of the void. Next week, June 8 and 9, booksellers, librarians, publishers, reviewers and “passionate book lovers” can enjoy talks and panels about all aspects of book retailing and publishing along with previews of the fall’s big books. Among the scores of authors set to appear are Tayari Jones, Anthony Doerr and Lydia Millet.
Take note: To encourage young people to think about pursuing careers in publishing, BookFest is offering free admission to all college students. Just register here with your school email address and use the code COLLEGEPASS.
Illustration from “Description et perfection des arts et métiers, des arts de construire les caractères,” by Philippe Grandjean et al. c. 1704 (Courtesy of the Grolier Club)
The works of art we look at most are fonts. You’re looking at one right now. I suspect the number of people who care about fonts is as small as a Helvetica period. But it wasn’t always that way. Remember in the ’80s when the Macintosh computer suddenly gave us control over the size and species of our lettering? It was fontastic — and led to an explosion of fonts (some ridiculous) unlike anything since the 16th century. (The Trappist monk whose calligraphy inspired Steve Jobs.)
The Grolier Club in New York is offering a curious new exhibit called “100 Books Famous in Typography.” The show, which runs through July, celebrates “the art and science of printing types,” from Gutenberg’s work in the 15th century to modern-day computers. This is the kind of show that exclaims, “Jenson’s roman of 1470 was a game-changing typeface”! Here are the books and the printers who created the regulated squiggles that enable us to read. None of it happened by accident. Italics, for instance, was first used by a Venetian printer named Aldus Manutius around 1500. Imagine not having italics!
Even if you don’t know much about the history of typography, you’ll recognize some of these names, like John Baskerville, an English printer, whose 1757 edition of Virgil — set in his own typeface — impressed an American printer named Ben Franklin.
The Grolier exhibit is free, and if you’re the type of person who gets in bar brawls over serif vs. sans serif, you must see it. And if you can’t make it to New York, you can get a good sense of the show from this online version.
At the Lambda Literary Awards ceremony on Tuesday, “Guillotine,” by Eduardo C. Corral, was named the best work of gay poetry. The “Lammys,” as they’re called, celebrate the year’s finest LGBTQ literature. “Guillotine,” which was also longlisted for a National Book Award, is a plaintive, sometimes tormented collection of poems about migrants and the risks of crossing; lovers and the risks of desire.
Autobiography of My Hungers
His beard: an avalanche of honey,
of thorns. In a bar too close to the Pacific,
he said, “I don’t love you,
but not because I
couldn’t be attracted to you.” Liar—
even my soul
is potbellied. Thinness,
in my mind, equals the gay men
on the nightly news.
Kissed by death & public scorn.
The anchorman declaring,
“Weight loss is one
of the first symptoms.” The Portuguese
have a word for imaginary, never-
“I don’t love you,” he said.
The words flung him back—
in his eyes, I saw it—
to another bar
where a woman sidestepped his desire.
In tenth grade, weeks after
my first kiss, my mother
said, “You’re looking thinner.”
That evening, I smuggled a cake
into my room.
I ate it with my hands,
licked buttercream off
my thumbs until I puked.
Desire with no future,
I starve myself by yearning
for intimacy that doesn’t
& won’t exist.
Holding hands on a ferry. Tracing,
with the tip of my tongue,
a jawline. In a bar too close
to the Pacific, he said,
“I don’t love you, but not
because I couldn’t be attracted to you.”
an avalanche of thorns,
an avalanche of honey.
“Autobiography of My Hungers” from “Guillotine.” Copyright © 2020 by Eduardo C. Corral. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minn.
In 1960, Radcliffe College began a “messy experiment”: It offered a group of female artists offices and fellowships to combat the “climate of unexpectation facing women.” For Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin, Barbara Swan, Marianna Pineda and Tillie Olsen, the program was life-changing.
I learned about this remarkable episode from Maggie Doherty’s group biography, “The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s,” which won this year’s Marfield Prize for Arts Writing (Disclosure: I was a judge). Tonight at the award ceremony at 7 p.m. ET, I’ll be interviewing Doherty about her book, and you’re welcome to watch online (free, but you must register).
Meanwhile, if you have any questions or comments about our book coverage, contact me at email@example.com. And if you know someone who would enjoy this newsletter, please help me out and forward it to them. To subscribe, click here.
Interested in advertising in our bookish newsletter? Contact Michael King at firstname.lastname@example.org.