Today in books and publishing: the truthiness of David Sedaris draws scrutiny post Mike Daisey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is headed for bankruptcy, and a defense of the coming New York Public Library Renovations.
The late Mike Daisey unpleasantness has prompted a new round of fretting about how This American Life vets essays by David Sedaris, some of which even the author admits are only "realish." Shouldn't stories about worker abuse in Chinese factories and stories about hookers coming over for Christmas dinner be held to the same editorial standards? The truthiness of Sedaris' contributions to This American Life have apparently been "a subject of discussion" for the program since March, when the show retracted Daisey's report from his visit to Foxconn, the Chinese factory that makes iPhones and iPads. Per show creator Ira Glass, three possible responses are under discussion when it comes to future airings work by Sedaris: "fact-checking each of Sedaris’s stories to ensure their accuracy, labeling them to alert the audience that the stories contain 'exaggerations' or doing nothing." On May 5, This American Life reaired a 15-minute monologue of Sedaris' about his family's pets, suggesting they've embraced the do-nothing response. (NPR -- which is separate from This American Life producer Chicago Public Media -- apparently thinks "the label option makes sense.") Our burning question: why do people have trouble with the notion of David Sedaris being a heightened version of himself? HBO viewers didn't need a disclaimer letting them know Larry David didn't really cut the hair off a little girl's doll. Is the problem that it's written and not acted? Is it the NPR-effect? We're at a loss. [The Washington Post]
The perpetually busy Ridley Scott has acquired the screen rights to Wool, a self-published science-fiction novel by a former British yacht captain named Hugh Howery. The book, originally published last July, deals with a "dystopian future (not enough of those around!) and has already spawned four sequels. Last weekend, Howey also secured a book deal with Century, the same division of Random House that made 50 Shades of Grey 50 Shades of Grey. So things are looking up for him. [GalleyCat]
Things are not looking up for textbook behemoth Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which is entering bankruptcy. The good news, per The New York Times, is that [e]mployees will be paid as usual, there are no plans for layoffs and the company has more than $135 million in cash on hand to pay for operating costs." [Arts Beat]
The Paris Review has reprinted a lengthy 1954 interview between George Plimpton and Ernest Hemingway on the art of fiction that is simply divine. Some of it is highly technical, of use only to people whose daily routine includes copious amounts of writing (or blogging), but there are also vintage Hemingway-isms that you just want to bottle, sentiment like "[T]he best writing is certainly when you are in love. If it is all the same to you I would rather not expound on that." [The Paris Review]
Here's a lengthy defense of the planned renovations to the New York Public Library, which many fancy literary types like Jonathan Lethem and Salman Rushdie object to, because it will mean adding more computers and a cafe (!!) to what is already a perfectly fine research space. This is true, writes Robert Darnton (an NYPL board member), who agrees that while the renovations may seem to an attempt to turn the NYPL into a "glorified Starbucks," the cafe is incidental to the larger cash crisis facing the library. By "selling [the Mid-Manhattan branch and Science, Industry, and Business Library at Madison Avenue] and incorporating their collections in a renovated structure at 42nd Street, the library will be able to put its finances on a sound footing and to satisfy its responsibilities to the public, among other things by hiring more librarians and devoting more funds to collections." Research libraries are having an increasingly tough time acquiring books, Darnton writes. "By incorporating Mid-Manhattan into a renovated structure at 42nd Street," Darnotn writes, "the library will enhance its mission to serve the people of New York at both a popular and an esoteric level, on the lower as well as the upper floors; and while lending its books more effectively, it will enrich the intellectual life of the city by improving and preserving its great research collections." [The New York Review of Books]