1984 recovered

New cover treatment for Orwell’s 1984 by David Pearson. See all five of Pearson’s designs for Penguin’s George Orwell series here. (A bit more information is here.) The last image, with the title entirely cut out, was Pearson’s initial concept, rejected by Penguin for cost reasons.

1984 by David Pearson (drop shadow)

1984 cover by David Pearson


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Best Book Trailer Ever

The trailer for my friend John Kenney’s wonderful new debut novel, Truth in Advertising (available January 22). Best book trailer ever.

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Ian McEwan on the ideal length of a story

I believe the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction.

Ian McEwan

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Orwell: Good Bad Books

The existence of good bad literature—the fact that one can be amused or excited or even moved by a book that one’s intellect simply refuses to take seriously—is a reminder that art is not the same thing as cerebration.

Read the whole essay here. See also: Orwell on Why I Write.

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John Fox on ball games

Book trailer for The Ball: Discovering the Object of the Game by my friend John Fox (on sale May 14). The footage shows the Kirkwell Ba’, an ancient “folk football” game played twice a year, on Christmas and New Years Day, in the streets of Kirkwall, a tiny coastal town in Orkney, northern Scotland.

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The original death of publishing


The New Yorker

The New Yorker

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Graham Greene by Yousuf Karsh

Karsh portrait of Graham Greene

Graham Greene, 1964. Portrait by Yousuf Karsh.

Ex Libris

I’ve just received a new shipment of these bookplates. They are for readers who would like a signed book but can’t make it to a book signing. If you’d like one, just email me with your address and, if you want a personal inscription, what you would like it to say. There is no charge. It’s just a way of saying “thank you” to readers. (Click the image to view full sized.)

A little background on the design. The woodcut illustration is by the artist Rockwell Kent. It was originally commissioned by the Antioch Bookplate Company for a mass-market bookplate in the 1950s. Those Antioch bookplates used to be very common. You could find them at any bookstore. They were tasteful, inexpensive and, for the genteel middle class, a little aspirational. (My mom had them.)

Kent was a prolific bookplate designer. Most of his work was for friends and private clients, though, like the plate on the left. (Source. More examples here and here. There is even a book on Kent’s bookplates.) The series he designed for Antioch made it possible for everyone to have a Rockwell Kent bookplate.

Antioch stopped printing bookplates a few years ago, but Karen Gardner has continued the business under the name Bookplate Ink, where you can still get many of the old Rockwell Kent designs.

Personally, I love Kent’s art. So when it came time to order a bookplate for my readers, I asked Karen if she would modify one of Kent’s designs to make a little more space for a signature and inscription, since the original design left only enough space for the owner’s name. I cribbed the “compliments of” line from a similar bookplate offered by Alain de Botton, and the result is what you see above.

I admit it’s a little loony to spend so much time thinking about bookplates. In the age of ebooks, soon there may be nothing to stick them on. All the more reason to enjoy them now.

Categories: Books · My Books    Tags: · ·

Our golden age of reading

reading chart

Alexis Madrigal: “our collective memory of the past is astoundingly inaccurate. Not only has the number of people reading not declined precipitously, it’s actually gone up since the perceived golden age of American letters.”

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Making Gatsby

Gatsby manuscript

Fitzgerald’s handwritten manuscript of The Great Gatsby (via)

Support your indie bookstore!

“There are lots of reasons to support local businesses, whether it’s mom-and-pop hardware stores or neighborhood farmers’ markets. But when you buy from an independent bookseller, you’re doing something more. You’re helping to keep alive an important force in making our national literary culture more diverse, interesting and delightful. Your shelves are full of books that wouldn’t be there if not for indie booksellers you’ve never met, struggling to get by in shops you’ve never heard of. That’s why it’s so important to support the one next door.”

Laura Miller


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Emily Dickinson was here

Emily Dickinson dress

Emily Dickinson’s only surviving dress, Amherst Historical Society, Amherst, Massachusetts, 2010 (photo: Annie Leibovitz, from Pilgrimage).

Categories: Art · Books · Photography    Tags: ·

Lamb House

Lamb House

Lamb House was the home of Henry James from 1897, when he was 55, until his death in 1916. Below, the residence as it appeared in the late 1930s or early 1940s. To the left of the house, at the end of the high wall, is the garden room where in summer James did most of his writing. The garden room was destroyed by a bomb in August 1940.

Lamb House 1930s

Look here for more about Lamb House from Colm Toibin, whose portrait of Henry James, The Master, beautifully evokes James’s life at Lamb House. If you read The Master — and you should — you will want to know what Lamb House looks like.

Photos: Jim Linwood, doveson2008, both via Flickr.

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The origin of Roy Hobbs

Eddie Waitkus

Phillies first-baseman Eddie Waitkus, Clearwater, Florida, 3/9/53 (source). On June 19, 1949, Waitkus was shot in the chest by a deranged fan, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, in a Chicago hotel room. The incident inspired the similar episode in Bernard Malamud’s The Natural.

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Quote of the Day

It is quite possible — overwhelmingly probable, one might guess — that we will always learn more about human life and personality from novels than from scientific psychology.

Noam Chomsky

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Nook: So far, so good

A couple of days ago, my wife gave me a Nook for my birthday. It is the first e-reader I have owned, and so far I have been very impressed.

Until now, I have not been willing to make the switch to ebooks. The first-generation e-ink screens always looked murky, and the machines themselves — the early Kindles especially — were just plain ugly.

But the new Nook, which B&N has saddled with the dreary name Nook Simple Touch Reader, has been a revelation. The 6-inch e-ink screen is very clear and bright. The case has an elegant, simple design. Clearly B&N has studied the uncluttered look of touch-screen iPods. They’ve stripped away virtually everything but the screen itself and a comfortable, thick, grippy, rubbery bezel to hold it by. No more dual screens or physical keypads. There are still a few well-disguised buttons on the case (on the front, a home key and page-forward and page-back buttons, plus a power button on the back), but the Nook is primarily controlled by its touch screen.

About that touch screen: All e-ink displays rely on some secondary technology to make them touch-sensitive. Early e-readers used a physical layer overlaid on the e-ink display, but the result was to make the screen hazy and dull. The new Nook’s touch screen uses infrared sensors rather than physical pressure to determine where your finger is. The sensors are arrayed unobtrusively around the edge of the screen. So it is not a true touch screen. In fact, I have found you can turn the page without quite making contact with the surface of the screen, so long as your finger comes close enough to trip the sensors. The end result is not as good as back-lit displays like the iPad. The Nook’s touch screen is less responsive, less precise. But you get used to it quickly. I have found typing and swiping on the Nook very comfortable. And the tradeoff is well worth it for the benefits of e-ink: a very sharp display without the eye fatigue caused by back-lighting, plus very, very long battery life (two months for the Nook, according to B&N). The only concern with the Nook’s touch-screen system is that over time the screen is likely to get dirty and smudged from my oily fingertips, and of course an e-ink screen can’t be cleaned with Windex.

Enough about the hardware. What about the experience?

I have found reading on the Nook absolutely exhilarating. Halfway through my first ebook, Colm Toibin’s wonderful The Master, I actually prefer it to physical books. Until now I have sympathized with the traditionalists who cherish the tactile experience of a “real” book. But the Nook has changed my mind. It is so much lighter and easier to hold than a 400-page book. To hold a big book effortlessly with one hand is a completely new experience. The ability to adjust the font, type size, and line spacing is also wonderful, since viewing conditions change throughout the day.

Yes, an ebook is less beautiful than a traditional book. Yes, something is lost when we stop thinking of “books” as physical objects. But I’d underestimated the benefits of going digital. So, to the traditionalists: It is not about which format is “better.” It is about adding a new format for books, not replacing the old format with a new one.

My sunny response to the Nook may be affected by the fact I am a writer. To me, my own novels have never been the paper-and-ink objects that readers buy; those are just the containers in which the novels are shipped. And for the most part the packaging is not my own work. What I create is just the string of words inside the covers, the text. All the rest — the cover art, the jacket copy, the typeface, the page layout — is all done by the publisher. To see all that stripped away, leaving just the text itself, returns the book to the essential thing that the writer himself made. Anyway, every writer is used to seeing books this way, as unadorned text on a screen — that is how they look as they are being written.

Reading on my Nook, I feel surprisingly encouraged about the future of publishing. The device itself generates excitement about books. Even now, I can’t wait to pick up the Nook and get back to The Master. I can’t wait to buy more ebooks, too. After so many years of reading, it is exciting to experience books in this new way. I suspect I will end up reading more than I have before. During those evening hours after the kids go to sleep, when I might have turned on the laptop and drifted off in a web trance, now I am likely to turn on the Nook instead for a quieter, more focused, less distracted reading experience. (Caveat: when I’m really writing well, I can’t read anything at all, so we’ll have to wait and see whether I actually wind up reading more books.) Surely I’m not alone in reacting this way. I can easily imagine the inexorable adoption of ebooks triggering more reading, not less, hardly the end-of-days scenario the doomsayers have been going on about.

Ebooks are a different way to experience a novel. In some ways better, purer. Just you and the text. There is complete privacy — no signaling to others about what you are reading, no book cover to invite them into the experience, to trigger a conversation. And no book designer to frame the experience for you, to color your perception of the book with an “important” cover or deckle-edged pages or heavy paper. Just the words, the happy dream of the story itself. I like it.

I’ll let you know whether I still like the ebook experiment after a while, when the novelty has worn off. But so far, so good.

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The Death of Print

See if you can discern the subtle pattern in these numbers. (Via.)

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Making books is fun!

“This man is an author. He writes stories. He has just finished writing a story. He thinks many people will like to read it. So he must have the story made into a book. Let’s see how the book is made.”

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Book trailer for Andrew Zuckerman’s Wisdom

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Orwell on Dickens

Two quotes pulled from Orwell’s classic 1940 essay on Charles Dickens.

Why is it that Tolstoy’s grasp seems to be so much larger than Dickens’s — why is it that he seems able to tell you so much more about yourself? It is not that he is more gifted, or even, in the last analysis, more intelligent. It is because he is writing about people who are growing. His characters are struggling to make their souls, whereas Dickens’s are already finished and perfect. In my own mind Dickens’s people are present far more often and far more vividly than Tolstoy’s, but always in a single unchangeable attitude, like pictures or pieces of furniture. You cannot hold an imaginary conversation with a Dickens character … because Dickens’s characters have no mental life. They say perfectly the thing that they have to say, but they cannot be conceived as talking about anything else.

And a little further on:

What people always demand of a popular novelist is that he shall write the same book over and over again, forgetting that a man who would write the same book twice could not even write it once.

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