No, Lebron James doesn’t have anything to do with Best American Essays 2014. But this year’s version is brought to you by Pulphead’s own John Jeremiah Sullivan. And he opens the collection with an essay of his own—republished here, on The New Yorker’s website—in which he makes the case that the earliest English-language essayist was none other than King James I. Yes, that King James, of the KJV Bible, of whom JJS writes, “We may imagine him as a stuffed robe-and-crown who gives a thumbs-up to the Authorized Version and fades into muffled bedchambers, but James was a serious man of letters. He fashioned himself so and was one, in truth.” (That’s an image above from James’ Essayes of a prentise, in the divine art of poesie, the very book that earns the King this extra claim to fame, showcasing “early shape poetry.”)
Book events should always include live owls, full stop.
Jeff VanderMeer has been one busy guy since Acceptance, the final installment of the Southern Reach trilogy, pubbed in September. This spectacular photo (courtesy Kyle Cassidy) is from Jeff’s visit to Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences, but he’s done readings all over the east coast and we’re running out of fingers to count all the wonderful reviews that have come in.
Etgar Keret, who lives in Tel Aviv with his family, admits that when he started writing this piece—originally published in Israel, now in the LA Times—he “found it hard to write an article on peace without feeling like an idiot, or at the very least, like someone completely cut off from reality.”
And that was before the current situation in Gaza erupted. The urgency and the predictability of the latest conflagration caused him to reconsider the very basis of how he had come to think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
If peace is so hopelessly unachievable, maybe it’s time to give up on “peace.” Time to find a more honest way to frame things. It’s a simple, reasonable, maybe even hopeful proposal for a situation that rarely inspires such adjectives. Give it a read.
John Freeman, author of How to Read a Novelist and former editor of Granta, just revealed his next grand endeavor, and while it’s not an FSG Originals project, we’re still pretty darn excited about it (so long as it doesn’t distract him from that other book he has under contract . . . ). He’s starting a new literary magazine! Called Freeman’s! [Exclamation point ours, as ever.] More precisely, he’s starting a series of anthologies that come out twice a year—each a themed selection of original fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and photo essays.
John tried to explain the madness to us:
One of the things I love about working in books is its endless cycle of renewal. Just when you think there are a fixed number of points to orient by, another dozen appear, seemingly out of nowhere. And the whole landscape changes. I got to work with so many writers I admired at Granta, novelists and reporters who are among my lifelong favorites. But less than a year after quitting that post I already had fallen for a number of new writers, people I either narrowly missed when I was at Granta, or writers I was not even aware existed. The search for good writing is, I think, endless, largely because there is more to living than we can possibly know, and that boundlessness is one of the pleasures I hope to bring to Freeman’s .
The Washington Post has the full scoop. . .
March Madness is upon us. By which, of course, we mean The Morning News Tournament of Books, the literary world’s antidote to college basketball—or, perhaps, its capitulation to the national obsession with bracketology. There are some serious problems with this year’s tournament: Notably, the absence of any FSG Originals titles (how do you have a no-holds-barred competition and not include Donnybrook?), and specifically, the failure of The Isle of Youth (or even Originals’ hardcover-favorite Hild) to move from the long list into the tourney itself, presumably because the organizers were looking to preserve some element of parity and suspense in the competition. But the panel of judges is acceptable—we’re looking forward to reading John Darnielle weigh in next week, and of course John Freeman are famous for their irresistible discernment. But the smart set says the real action is in the comments section. And how can we disagree when today’s Match Commentary opens with:
I thought Freeman’s judgment was tremendous—it’s not surprising for those of us who know his work (I highly recommend How to Read a Novelist)...
The (also not surprising) fact is, we don’t disagree at all—Freeman’s judgment is in fact tremendous, and that fact that the tremendousness is unsurprising shouldn’t stop you from reading his noble effort to step beween The Son and Eleanor and Park, a pair of books who’ve clearly been itching for a match-up all year long. It may not be 2014’s great Cinderella story (but maybe it is! No spoilers here!), it’s well worth reading—an eloquent and inspiring example of a critic reading two very different, accomplished books on their own terms, and then unapologetically doing what the Tournament demands: anointing the better book. Naturally, we also agree that that sheer tremendousness of Freeman’s judgment should spur you to read How to Read a Novelist. It is in fact chock-full of upsets, nail-biters, and Cinderella stories.
AREA X WANTS YOU!
Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation has made its way across the Atlantic this week, and our friends at Fourth Estate—who are publishing the book in the UK—pointed us in the direction of this mysterious website for The Southern Reach, claiming to be able to deliver “the truth” about Area X. Start with the video above. From there, explore at your own risk. You could be gone for days…or longer…
In other British Annihilation news, The Guardian greeted the book with a rave review—
You enter Area X with them, thinking the uncanny must lurk in some particular spot. The lighthouse? The reed beds? The “tower”? Very quickly you spot your mistake, as a subtle, well-engineered wrongness turns up in every character, every deed, every observation until, at last, you find yourself afraid to turn the page.
—as has The Telegraph—
The writing itself has a clarity that makes the abundancy of the setting more powerful. Little surprise, therefore, that Annihilation shows signs of being the novel that will allow VanderMeer to break through to a new and larger audience.
Maybe the phrase “Literature Party” makes as much sense to you as “132 lbs of FSG Originals shot glasses.” We’re still getting used to it too. Does the phrase “sixty foot video wall by HTML Giant” help? Maybe it just means none of us have yet arrived at AWP. Surely it will all make sense then. And if not, that’s probably even better.
With a reading by our own Amelia Gray and a few sixty-foot videos (really?) from team Silent History and many, many more highlights (including Melissa Broder and Sommer Browning), not to mention piles of books, a hundred-plus pounds of shot glasses (we bet it clears two hundred once there’s liquid inside), and the support of the partiest small presses (and one alt weekly!) around, it promises to be The Party of the Conference™. It’s all happening Friday, February 28 at Fred Wildlife Refuge in Seattle.
Read more at and literatureparty.com. And no, we don’t how they scored that URL either - it must have cost a fortune.
Lots of good folks have written about the Write-a-House campaign in Detroit, so many that we thought we could get away with keeping our opinions to ourselves. And yet with less than a week left to go, they’re still a few grand short of their Indiegogo goal, so we decided it was time to share our thoughts on how fantastic it is: Pretty damn fantastic!
If you haven’t read about it yet, the gist is this: Write-a-House is upending the typical idea of a writer’s residency—normally, a very limited amount of time in a cozy and sequestered writing nook—by giving the writers actual residences in Detroit. Like for real giving. Forever giving. They are giving houses to writers…