Today in books and publishing: The New York Times' book reviewers are "outsiders"; dispatches from a Borders-less Ann Arbor; Hari Kunzru on American xenophilia; mapping Infinite Jest's Boston; E.L. James tops the charts.
A world without Borders. For a cautionary glimpse at the post-bookstore landscape, look no further than Ann Arbor, Michigan. Borders closed its flagship Ann Arbor store after declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, and downtown East Liberty Street has since taken a turn for the worse. AnnArbor.com reports, "many retailers neighboring the former flagship Borders closed their doors and panhandling issues were thrust into the spotlight as people took up residence outside the large vacant storefront." The way one resident described the area, you'd think it was some nightmarish wasteland: “I’ll never forget one night there were hardly any cars and (panhandlers) were outside Borders’ entrance. It was like a ghost town…it gave me chills." [AnnArbor.com]
The New York Times considers its own book reviewers "outsiders." Plenty of NYT readers have expressed confusion about why the newspaper reviews certain books twice, and now one of the paper's editors admits that it's a "perplexing redundancy." Jonathan Landman, the Times’ culture editor, is quoted as saying that the book reviews in the Arts section, “are meant to reflect, in effect, the judgment of The New York Times,” whereas those in the Book Review are written by “outsiders” as part of a “conversation about books going on in the wider literary world.” One of those outsiders happens to be the ultimate insider around here: Jen Doll reviewed Beth Kephart's young adult novel Small Damages in this week's Book Review. [The New York Times]
This is Boston. Washington, DC-based writer William Beutler just launched a neat site that will document and discuss the Boston locations referenced in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. The first post explores the Brighton Marine Health Center, the real-life analogue to the novel's Enfield Marine VA Hospital. [Infinite Boston]
Look To The East. Hari Kunzru, author of Gods Without Men, has a thought-provoking essay over at The Guardian about why American readers fawn over foreign writers. Recent years have found us in thrall over writers like W.G. Sebald and Roberto Bolaño, and Kunzru notices similar fervor gaining momentum around the difficult Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai. He interprets the hype as a sign of contemporary American literature's shortcomings. Kunzru writes, "This is a milieu that, for every Don Delillo (whose apocalypse-mastery is undeniable), produces several Jonathan Franzens or Chad Harbachs – conservative stylists whose technical gifts are harnessed to a kind of domestic realism, which eschews metaphysical or existential flights in favour of pragmatic, reader-friendly observation. It is a kind of triangulation between the demands of the critics and the market that feels, to many, less ambitious and confrontational than the work being made elsewhere in the world." [The Guardian]
James and Collins at the top of the charts. Sales numbers are in for the first half of 2012, and to the surprise of no one, E.L. James and Suzanne Collins dominate the top spots. In stores, through Amazon, and on e-readers, the Fifty Shades and Hunger Games books are selling like hotcakes. [Publishers Weekly]