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Monday, April 20, 2009

Hot Off the Presses

The Pulitzer Prizes were announced today and of interest to this blog was the award for fiction which went to Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. The Publisher's Weekly review of the book described it as:
Thirteen linked tales from Strout (Abide with Me, etc.) present a heart-wrenching, penetrating portrait of ordinary coastal Mainers living lives of quiet grief intermingled with flashes of human connection.
As someone who enjoys the short fiction form as both a writer and a reader, it's exciting to see a collection like this gain some recognition. I'm looking forward to adding this to my 'to read' pile.

You can see the full list of winners on the Pulitzer website here, and read more about the winners (with links to their earlier reviews) at the New York Times here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Note to Self

No more reading harrowing true stories of death and survival.

I'm just too sensitive.

Follow-Up: Amazonian Intrigue

As far as I can tell there won't be much more information coming regarding the Amazon "glitch" that lit Twitter on fire and sent the company stumbling through controversy this past weekend. In addition to the company's claims of "cataloging error," a hacker has also claimed responsibility for the problem on his blog.

I remain skeptical of both explanations, and in the end we may never know what really happened. Here's hoping the situation is rectified in a hurry, no matter the cause.

Read a thorough summary of the story in the New York Times today here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon A-Twitter

There is a rapidly unfolding story in the world of book sales that caused an absolute Twitter frenzy over the weekend. According to reports, Amazon has recently stripped certain book titles of their sales rankings. From what I can gather, in addition to the bestseller lists, Amazon sales rankings also factor into their search results, an important tool in online book sales.

What books are being stripped? Authors and users are initially reporting that the connective thread between the targeted book titles is erotic content and gay and lesbian content.

Amazon officials are currently calling it a glitch, but Twitterers, responding to a tweet from book critic Bethanne Patrick who initially sparked the frenzy, have seized on the topic and remain skeptical, many calling for a boycott under the hashtag #amazonfail.

Seattle Pi is currently quoting Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener as saying, "This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection."

This story is unfolding so rapidly, I'm certain I won't be able to keep up with it on this blog. You can follow it with more reliability (no rumor or unsourced quotes) over at the LA Times' Literary Blog (which is pretty fantastic by the way) called Jacket Copy.

Whether this turns out to be a rapidly corrected glitch as Amazon seems to be claiming, or a signal of future policy, I think Carolyn Kellogg at Jacket Copy really summed it up perfectly:
But as troubling as the unevenness of the policy of un-ranking and de-searching certain titles might be, it's a bit beside the point. It's the action itself that is troubling: making books harder to find, or keeping them off bestseller lists on the basis of their content can't be a good idea.

Friday, April 10, 2009

City of Dust: John Fante and the City of Los Angeles

It wasn't intentional, but apparently I finished reading Ask the Dust by John Fante just in time to celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday.

I initially added Ask the Dust to my 'to read' list a few years ago when my short fiction writing professor, Stephen Cooper, glowed about Fante. At the time, he had just finished writing Fante's biography,
Full of Life: A Biography of John Fante, so I took his endorsement with a grain of salt.

No grain of salt was needed.

Ask the Dust is passionate, intense, and brutal. And it offers some of the most stirring descriptions of Los Angeles that I can ever remember reading. In some ways Fante's Los Angeles of the 1930s is not the same as my current one of the oughts. But the sensation of Los Angeles is still the same: the palm trees, warm winds, racial tensions, long highways to dusty deserts, startling earthquakes, and transplanted dreamers.

John Fante's children have recently donated his archive of manuscripts, letters, and documents to the public which will be available for viewing at the Department of Special Collections in the Charles E. Young Research Library at UCLA. In honor of this donation, and his 100th birthday, Cooper has written an essay in the LA Times, which you can find here.

One of the most oft-repeated stories about Ask the Dust tells how the book went out of print after its 1954 Bantam run, and stayed that way until 1980, when Charles Bukowski rescued it from literary oblivion. Since then, its admirers have grown, and continue to do so still.

In one of my favorite passages, Camilla Lopez, the mysterious heroine of the book, cruises down Wilshire Boulevard in an open topped car, one leg dangling over the side, unapologetic about letting the cool breeze blow up her skirt. As she attracts the attention of nearby drivers and the embarrassment of her passenger, her only response is to simply press down on the gas and tilt her head back and laugh.