Our Man in Berlin, Tom Hanks

Today in books: Universal options Erik Larson's non-fiction chiller In the Garden of Beasts as a possible Tom Hanks vehicle, Niall Ferguson threatens to call in the lawyers over a bad review, and the many theories about literary criticism's decline.

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Today in publishing and literature: Universal options Erik Larson's non-fiction chiller In the Garden of Beasts as a possible Tom Hanks vehicle, Niall Ferguson threatens to call in the lawyers over a bad review, and the many theories about literary criticism's decline.

  • Universal has optioned Erik Larson's non-fiction book In the Garden of Beasts as a potential starring vehicle for Tom Hanks, who will also produce the film through his production company Playtone. Presumably, Hanks would play William Dodd, the book's main character and America's ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1937, who gradually becomes aware of the Nazi threat as his wild daughter romances Gestapo officers and starts plotting against America and her father. It's a terrific book, a terrific role and  Hanks will be the early Best Actor favorite whenever it hits screens. (It's the kind of part George C. Scott would have demolished back in the 1970s.) Hopefully this will inspire Leonardo DiCaprio to pick up the pace on the long-gestating film  version of Larson's equally scary serial killer/World's Fair mashup The Devil in the White City. [The Hollywood Reporter]
  • Proving again that few things in life are as thrilling as a public figure refusing to apologize, London Review of Books critic Pankaj Mishra isn't interested in apologizing to Harvard historian Niall Ferguson for calling him a "homo atlanticus redux" who's only interested in writing "white people’s histories" in his review of Ferguson's new book Civilization earlier this month. After an initial 900-word letter demanding Mishra say sorry for his "defamatory allegation of racism" and receiving a lukewarm response, Ferguson is gearing up to bring in his lawyers. "If he won't apologise for calling me a racist," Ferguson explained to The Guardian, "I will persecute him until he does." Seems reasonable. Then he went on to lament the lack of manners in modern literature, though it should be noted that Charles Dickens and William Thackeray weren't exactly the best of friends. Says Ferguson:

"I find it staggering that the LRB is standing by him. I spoke to the editor Mary-Kay Wilmers and said: 'Don't force my hand by forcing me to put it in the hands of lawyers.' All I have got back is weasel words.

There was a time when one expected better from the literary world, to play the ball not the man. But it seems to be becoming de rigueur for mediocrities to build their fame on attacking those more successful than them."

[Arts Beat and The Guardian]

  • Literary criticism is in trouble! We've argued persuasively in the past that this is because literary theory is very, very stupid, but Spain's El Pais newspaper still felt the need to gather 22 critics from "prestigious literary supplements in Europe, [the] U.S., Latin America, and Spain" -- which is also located in Europe -- to find out why people think they can read a big, important new book without first reading a 10,000 word essay onJacques Derrida and synchronic grammar. Jorge Aulicino, editor of the Argentinian supplement Ñ, de Clarín blames "the democratization of criticism" and "the Amazon effect" with letting anyone, even if they don't know the difference between Lacan's big Other and Tarantino's Big Kahuna Burger, say whether or not they liked a book. The Guardian's Claire Armitstead says the problem is that there's "no career structure in criticism," while former Washington Post Book World editor Marie Arana is mad at "undisciplined, poorly written, and often neglected" book blogs for not talking about things the way she'd like them to be talked about. [El Pais]
  • Has a single book produced as many terrific covers as John Steinbeck's East of Eden? Publishers Weekly's PWxyz blog put the covers from each printing into a post, and the results are striking. Here's a sample of some that caught our eye:

(First edition, The Viking Press, 1952)

(Undated German edition)

(Longman, 2003 edition)

[Publishers Weekly]

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