The Late American Novel

We have had no shortage of "death of the book" articles by journalists, critics, and publishing insiders. Storytellers, however, have been slower to weigh in. The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, edited by Jeff Martin and C. Max Magee, helps redress this deficit.

 

The focus of the volume is a bit confused, however, as contributors conflate books with novels (a thousand histories, textbooks, and guidebooks sigh) and writers with novelists (cue sighs from poets, journalists, screenwriters). The strongest essays focus on the history of the book, the function of storytelling, and the process of writing with wi-fi.

 

John Brandon's essay is a sharp and funny request to continue neglecting the novella, and Reif Larson's "The Crying of Page 45" combines well-informed histories of the book with wit and experimentation (his is the only entry that includes images). Others wax romantic on the smell and heft of physical books, while Victor LaValle's charming homage to hardcovers ends with a warning against such nostalgia: "The greatest gift the electronic age could bestow upon the novel is to keep it sacred, not sacrosanct."

 

Rudolph Delson, Nancy Jo Sales, Garth Risk Hallberg, Ander Monson, and Benjamin Kunkel smartly thread the books/novels/writing needle, ruminating on the reduced distance between authors and readers, the emphatic function of fiction, and the participatory promise of ebooks. By the end of the slim volume, readers may be ready to side with Monson, who writes: "Time to shut up and get to the making, get back to that sense of play where everything interesting, including the future, finally fast and soon to be here, starts."

July 22: On this day in 1941, on his twelfth wedding anniversary, Eugene O'Neill presented the just-finished manuscript of Long Day's Journey into Night to his wife, Carlotta.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.

Landline

What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.