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Book News for Monday, April 27, 2009

  • Oh, the Places He Went: Tom Bissell writes in The New York Times Book Review about the late David Foster Wallace's somewhat legendary 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address, which has been republished as This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life.

    The commencement address — not quite an essay, more intimate than a speech — is a highly particular literary form. It is also a uniquely disposable one. Imagine you have written the greatest commencement address in history. What do you do with it, once it has been delivered? The answer: nothing....When the graduation caps are thrown into the air, the commencement address's only obvious utility is jettisoned along with them.

    Wallace's address managed to avoid this fate not because it was great (though it was). He never published it and probably never would have. The address was saved, rather, thanks to the enterprising soul who transcribed it from video and posted it on the Internet, where, somehow, it came to the attention of my family friend — who would not have known David Foster Wallace if he fell on her. Thanks to the enthusiasm of people like her, and the magic of the cut-and-paste function, the address became a small sensation and must now rank high among the most widely read things Wallace ever wrote.

    As for the published version:

    While some may question the decision to publish Wallace's address as a book — and its interior design of one sentence per page is not much of a rebuttal to that question — it would take a small, charred heart to find any impure motives here. Future readers of "This Is Water" will have less trouble reconciling what it says with what its author ultimately did, and they, I think, are the audience this book is meant for.

    It would seem Oh, the Places You'll Go! now has a fierce competitor among gifts for graduates.

  • Mailer's Wrathful Grapes: The New York Times' Paper Cuts blog looks at Normal Mailer's list of 10 favorite books, circa 1988.

    I like this list for the daring inclusion of the noirish The Postman Always Rings Twice (Vintage Crime) and, particularly, for the unapologetic recognition of two Great American Novels, Look Homeward, Angel and The Grapes of Wrath, which if I'm not mistaken were as out of literary fashion in 1988 as they are today. It's unclear whether the order of books on the list had any significance of rank.

    The Grapes of Wrath, "out of literary fashion"? C'mon, that's crazy talk! Expect a revival if the economy keeps heading in the direction it's been going.

Book News Round-up:

  • Friday on Fresh Air, Terry's guest was Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, whose real-life friendship with homeless musician Nathaniel Ayers inspired the book The Soloist, which is NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr.
  • Miss the L. A. Times Book Festival last week? Yeah, me too. Catch up on the highlights.
  • Former '60s activist Mark Rudd speaks with The Daily Beast about his new memoir, Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen, and his radical past.
  • Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have successfully prevented a former bodyguard from writing about them in a tell-all book.

    I have to wonder how much interesting gossip a bodyguard could really have if he's doing his job well — wouldn't he be paying a lot more attention to what's going on around the famous couple than on the couple in question?

  • The Wall Street Journal on Finding Oz: How L Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story by Evan I. Schwartz:

    "[A]n entertaining page-turner....Though it's all a bit overwrought, it's hard not to warm to Mr. Schwartz and easy indeed to join his quirky search for whatever it was that went into Frank Baum that could make The Wonderful Wizard of Oz come out of him."

  • The Ethical Slut returns — with a new edition! The Daily Beast speaks with co-author Dossie Easton about what has changed.
  • Today's Very Short List recommendation is Every Man Dies Alone, the last novel by German author Hans Fallada, depicting life under the Nazi regime.

    The VSL calls it "a fine-grained portrait of wartime Berlin and a moral tour de force."

    Powell's own Gerry Donaghy calls it "deeply compelling and endlessly heartbreaking."

÷ ÷ ÷

Brockman is the head writer for the daily Book News posts on the Powells.com blog. In his free time he's hard at work on his fictional memoir, which changes titles daily.

The views and commentary posted by Brockman are entirely his own, and are not representative of the whole of Powell's Books, its employees, or any sane human being.

Books mentioned in this post

2 Responses to "Book News for Monday, April 27, 2009"

    ComradeMiami April 27th, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Wait, did you really just call him "Normal Mailer"? Paging the Doctor, anyone? If it wasn't intended, it was quite punny anyway.

    Brockman (Post Author) April 27th, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Of course it was intended! I don't make misteaks.

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