Philip Roth's iPhone Obsession; Penguin E-Books Return to Libraries

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Today in books and publishing: Roth's first and last interview in retirement; Penguin is lending library e-books again; new work by Mo Yan gets an English translation; a whole new kind of (dollar) book vendor.

Philip Roth ends his struggle. Philip Roth didn't want a retirement party. He tried to go out quietly, privately deciding in 2010 not to write any more fiction. But when word leaked that he told foreign press that he'd written enough, lots of readers wanted an explanation. In his first interview since the news came out—and apparently his last until his biography does—Roth tells Charles McGrath, "I know I’m not going to write as well as I used to. I no longer have the stamina to endure the frustration." Every morning he looks at a sticky note on his computer that reads, "The struggle with writing is over." So now, instead of literary pursuits, he just fiddles around with an iPhone all day. "Every morning I study a chapter in iPhone for Dummies, and now I’m proficient. I haven’t read a word for two months. I pull this thing out and play with it." [The New York Times]

Retirement must be all the rage amongst writers these days, because Hungarian Nobel laureate Imre Kertész has decided to follow Roth's lead. Bear with us while we quote from Google's translation of a French article, itself translated from a Hungarian newspaper item, but it seems that Kertész has decided to throw in the towel in part because of complications from Parkinson's disease, and because he feels that he has said all that he wants to about his work's dominant theme—the Holocaust. The 83-year-old survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald has entrusted his papers to the Academy of Arts in Berlin. [ActuaLitté]

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Library patrons can get Penguin e-books again. Librarians have one less Big Six publisher to be furious at. Since Penguin pulled their e-books from digital library distributor OverDrive in February, borrowers have been unable to check out the publisher's titles for e-readers. But now, Penguin has entered new partnerships with 3M Cloud Library and Baker & Taylor Axis360 to make their e-books accessible to libraries again. With a few unfortunate caveats, of course: the e-books don't won't be compatible with Kindle devices, only one patron can have a title out at a time, libraries must re-purchase the e-books every year, and titles won't become available until six months after their release dates. [paidContent]

New work from Mo Yan debuts in English. The latest author to nab a Nobel prize landed his work in the pages of The New Yorker this week. Yan's translator, Howard Goldblatt, is working on an English version of his 2003 novel, POW!, and the magazine decided to publish an excerpt about a father-less boy living in a town where cattle slaughtering is big business. Goldblatt says the novel is indicative of Yan's surreal style, "in both its 'hallucinatory' and its 'realist' veins—to cite the Nobel committee—which tend to merge. The core of Mo Yan’s work is the act and nature of narration. He is a master of fable and fantasy, multiple narrations, and stylistic switchings. POW! is a fine example of all these." [The New Yorker]

A new development in book vending. Dollar-bin book sales sound like a better idea than they really turn out to be. A dollar for a book is undoubtedly a steal, but such a cheap price tag makes one distrust the quality of the offerings. So this idea from the owner of Toronoto's The Monkey's Paw bookstore Stephen Fowler sounds like an interesting way to peddle cheaply priced paperbacks. His Biblio-Mat invention is basically a retro vending machine that dispenses a book—"no two alike"—for $2.00. He's been enjoying watching customers interact with the luck-of-the-draw machine. He says, "People have a deep need to think the thing is actually being picked for them. Yesterday a young woman got a book out of the machine—12 Hardest Shots in Golf, or something like that—and she was not very impressed. But then she said, 'I know exactly who I'm giving this to for Christmas.'" [NPR]

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