Saturday, February 12, 2011

Soup and Salad: Hemingway in Wyoming, Hammett in Texas, In Franzen's Shadow, eBooks vs. Bookstores, Should We Have an American Writers Museum?

On today's menu:

1. From the Department of George Washington Slept Here: A hotel owner in Cody, Wyoming is cleaning up around the place and starts going through some of the old ledgers from the 1930s.  She screams when she comes across Ernest Hemingway's signature.  "We've got some history here."  The Montana Standard has the details.

2.  Meanwhile, way down in Texas, someone else was surely screaming when he found some "lost" Dashiell Hammett stories.  An editor discovered 15 unpublished stories from the author of The Maltese Falcon.  One of those stories, "So I Shot Him," will be published in an upcoming issue of The Strand.  Great moments in literary excavation like this don't come along all the time, you know.  Okay, I'll say it: "It's the stuff dreams are made of."

3.  At The Millions, Gabriel Brownstein (author of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Apt. 3W) considers two books which came out in 2010: Jonathan Franzen's Freedom and Allegra Goodman's The Cookbook Collector.  Brownstein ponders the authors' execution of similar plot structures and the degrees to which the public embraced each of the books.
Both are addictive reading. I couldn’t put either one down. And both books were well received. Reviewers really liked The Cookbook Collector. They marveled at its intelligence and grace. It was called “a feast of love;” critics said that Goodman “makes us care,” and that her book was “enchanting and sensuous,” and “flush with warmth and color.” Critics were somewhat more divided over Freedom, but those who liked it liked it a lot: “A masterpiece of American fiction,” said Sam Tanenhaus in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, “an indelible portrait of our times,” said Michiko Kakutani in the daily. And this difference in response mimicked the gap between the two books’ pre-publication hype. Franzen’s was sold as “The Great American Novel” (that’s what Esquire called it), while The Cookbook Collector was (I guess) just another good book by Allegra Goodman.
In the article's money quote, Brownstein further concludes: Goodman glides through her fiction, while with Franzen, it’s always a triple lutz with a camel.  Nice.

4.  USA Today looks at the adapt-or-die crossroads at which many brick-and-mortar independent bookstores are standing.  In one direction, the road leads down the tried and true path of handselling "real" books to loyal customers; in the other direction, booksellers are planning innovative ways to bring the e-book experience into their stores.  The article, "Is there hope for small bookstores in a digital age?," focuses on Oblong Books in New York's Hudson Valley where owner Suzanna Hermans has partnered with Google eBooks in order to sell "byte books" to her customers in the store.  Her customers include some "who don't even want me to mention e-books, and others who are trying out their Nooks. It's going to be one-on-one education, but it means our customers have a choice."  I've oftened wondered what survival strategies bookstores will need to employ in this Age of Kindle; I'm not sure I fully understand the Google partnership, but I'm happy to see someone is trying something new.

5.  Does this nation need a museum dedicated to its writers?  Dr. Malcolm O'Hagan seems to think so.  In his online column at Fine Books & Collections, Nicholas Basbanes writes about O'Hagan's ambition to raise money for an American Writers Museum.  O'Hagan says: “If you do it right—and I think literature deserves its own cathedral in this country—then it’s going to cost a lot of money. The whole idea is to honor literature in the history and culture of our nation. To realize the vision of a new building, and to establish a continuing endowment, then that’s the threshold. Our goal is to bring our writers and our literature into the public discourse of the nation.”  Hey, if we can have a Pez dispenser museum, then surely we can break ground somewhere in America for a place to honor writers (and, by extension, readers).

6.  And finally, here's something to keep in mind as you plunge into the weekend:

Photo of Hemingway typewriter by Martin Kidston
Illustration of suicide-book by Michael Kindt

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