Today in books and publishing: Michiko Kakutani pans Zadie Smith's NW; revisiting Henry James; John Jeremiah Sullivan talks with The Guardian; Apple to sell government e-books.
Zadie Smith's NW panned. In all this recent talk about book critics being too nice, The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani never seemed to get called out. She certainly has her haters, but let it never be said that she fails to let readers know when she dislikes a book, in unambiguous terms. Though her latest review features high praise for Zadie Smith's previous books, Kakutani calls the British writer's latest novel NW "clunky" and lacking in "vision, energy and generosity of spirit." She writes, "Whereas White Teeth and Ms. Smith’s other masterwork, On Beauty showcased her effortless ability to channel the point of view of parents and children, ideologues and dreamers, academics and blue-collar workers, her latest novel takes an oddly patronizing stance toward its characters." [The New York Times]
Apple and the federal government forge an e-books truce. Even though the Department of Justice and Apple are still at each other's throats over a bitter e-book price-fixing lawsuit, Apple has reached out to collaborate with another part of the federal government, the Government Printing Office. Apple will begin selling federal publications on iTunes as part of an agreement with the GPO. "We’ve moved beyond ink or paper," says GPO spokesman Gary Somerset. The GPO’s managing director of business products and services Herbert Jackson likes the partnership because it increases public accessibility, saying, "It not only saves money, but it makes government more relevant because it allows people to get content about the government in the formats that they want." The deal has no bearing on the DOJ lawsuit, but the irony of feds selling e-books through a company they've accused of shady business practices can't be understated. [The Washington Post]
Anthony Lane on Henry James. Henry James may have been American-born, but he always looked East for inspiration, eventually settling in London and becoming a naturalized British subject. He considered himself a writer in a distinctively English vein, so who better to review Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece, Michael Gorra's new biography of the classic novelist, than one of today's most British of writers, Anthony Lane? The New Yorker film critic thinks that Gorra's decision to examine James' life through the prism of the writer's tricky novel The Portrait of a Lady was a good one. "How does one hope to pay homage to such complications: to all those hops and holes in the text, those worrisome velleities?" Lane asks. "What Michael Gorra has done—and I can’t decide whether it’s modest or brazen—is to make his book almost as tricky to negotiate, let alone to summarize, as James’s." Over at Publishers Weekly, Gorra lists Henry James' ton ten novels. He puts The Portrait of a Lady, unsurprisingly, at No. 1. [The New Yorker]
An interview with John Jeremiah Sullivan. Pulphead was one of last year's surprise hits in the book world—a collection of magazine pieces and personal essays, many of which could be found online for free, by a writer championed by the Southern literary community. John Jermiah Sullivan's success may have seemed strange at first blush, but his distinctive, probing look at contemporary American life endeared him to U.S. readers. Now, nearly a year after Pulphead's publication, the British are discovering him too. In an interview with The Guardian, Sullivan says that he's ready to move on from American themes and explore a wider world. "I want to get away from the places I can hear Pulphead stories," he says. "I want to find new territory that is cleaner, a place where I can go with no baggage." [The Guardian]
Carol Blue, Christopher Hitchens' wife, says no one could follow her husband. "And yet, now I must follow him. I have been forced to have the last word," she writes in an essay for The Telegraph, remembering her last days with the late essayist. [The Telegraph]
RIP Florence Shay, Chicago bookseller. The owner of Titles Inc.—beloved by Joseph Heller and Billy Corgan, among others—has died at 90. [The Chicago Tribune]
THE BEST NOVEL OF ALL TIME, according to The Huffington Post, is To Kill A Mockingbird. Glad that's cleared up. [Huffington Post]