The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- Kim Jong Un gave top officials in North Korea copies of Adolf Hitler's autobiography, Mein Kampf, as gifts on his birthday last January, according to a report in New Focus International, a newspaper written largely by North Korean defectors. It seems the book was intended to promote a study of Hitler's economic reforms, and was not necessarily meant as an endorsement of Nazism. New Focus International, which was founded by a former North Korean poet laureate, cites "a DPRK official in China," who told the paper that Kim admired the way Hitler reformed Germany's economy and military after the ravages of the first World War. If the reports are true, North Korea isn't the only place Mein Kampf has found an unlikely readership — Businessweek said last year that the book had become a bestseller in India.
- VICE has apologized for its "Last Words" fashion spread depicting the suicides of female authors such as Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. The magazine removed the post from its website, and issued a statement from the editors: "The fashion spreads in VICE magazine are always unconventional and approached with an art editorial point-of-view rather than a typical fashion photo-editorial one. Our main goal is to create artful images, with the fashion message following, rather than leading. 'Last Words' was created in this tradition and focused on the demise of a set of writers whose lives we very much wish weren't cut tragically short, especially at their own hands. We will no longer display 'Last Words' on our website and apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended."
- For The New Yorker, Thomas Beller imagines which historical writers would have been good on Twitter: "Gertrude Stein, with her gnomish, arty, aphoristic tendencies, would seem to be ideal. 'There is no there there' may be one of the great proto-tweets."
- Author, "New Journalism" icon and wearer of white suits Tom Wolfe is said to be working on a book called The Kingdom of Speech. According to Publisher's Marketplace, the book is "a nonfiction account of scholarship proposing that humans are divided from animals by their power of speech." Wolfe has hinted at the idea before, notably in a 2006 lecture called "The Human Beast." He said, "Speech gave the beast its first ability to ask questions, and undoubtedly one of the first expressed his sudden but insatiable anxiety as to how he got here and what this agonizing struggle called life is all about. To this day, the beast needs, can't live without, some explanation as the basis of whatever status he may think he possesses. For that reason, extraordinary individuals have been able to change history with their words alone, without the assistance of followers, money, or politicians."
- For The New Republic, Molly Fischer considers the folly of marathon reading: "Especially at 3:50 a.m., a marathon reading can look a lot like a pious exercise [in] high-culture martyrdom — behold, Great Books instead of text messages! But ... the spirit of the marathon reading is more elusive."
We'll let LeBron James do the talking. He said about the sixth game of the NBA finals between the Heat and Spurs:
"It's by far the best game I've ever been a part of."
And it certainly was a stunner: The Heat's Ray Allen hit a three-pointer with just 5.2 seconds on the clock to tie the game, denying the Spurs of their fifth NBA title. The game went into overtime and remained airtight, but eventually the Heat prevailed 103 to 100.
ESPN has highlights:
Game 7 is in Miami at 9 p.m. ET. ABC-TV will televise the match.
British writer Maggie O'Farrell, born in Northern Ireland, is less well-known in the U.S. than she should be. Her mesmerizing, tautly plotted novels often revolve around long-standing, ugly family secrets and feature nonconformist women who rebel against their strict Irish Catholic upbringing. Her most recent books, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (2006) and The Hand That First Held Mine (2010), offer the sort of spellbinding reads that can make you miss your flight announcement.
I nearly missed my subway stop while immersed in Instructions for a Heatwave. Although it doesn't pack the surprise punches of her Costa award-winning The Hand That First Held Mine, O'Farrell's sixth novel still has plenty to recommend it — including an utterly convincing portrait of a voluble, long-suffering, devout Catholic who's "always done her best to keep Ireland alive in her London-born children" but is dismayed that not one of them is a churchgoer.
The novel takes place in London and Ireland over four scorching July days in 1976. When devoted but taciturn Robert Riordan, a retired bank manager, doesn't return after ducking out for the paper, as he has every morning for more than 30 years, his three grown children are drawn back home to rally around their bewildered mother. They come to realize that Gretta Riordan is more complex than any of them had imagined.
"The heat, the heat," O'Farrell's novel opens, but the drought and soaring temperatures are more metaphoric — and significantly less oppressive — than family dynamics. The narrative shifts expertly between Gretta and her son and two daughters, each of whom bears secrets and a backstory that rekindle old grievances with suffocating intensity.
Gretta, it seems, is the only one who's happily hitched — or so she assumed right up to the morning when her beloved Robert took off with his passport and extra cash. As usual, he had set the table with everything she needed for her breakfast: "... a plate, a knife, a bowl with a spoon, a pat of butter, a jar of marmalade. It is in such small acts of kindness that people know they are loved," she reflects just before he vanishes.
No such thoughtfulness greets Gretta's sensitive, guilt-prone first-born, Michael Francis, when he trudges home from his dreary job teaching history. After a shotgun wedding, he had to abandon his Ph.D. studies and dash his dreams of a professorship at an American university. Now that their second child is ready to start school, his wife, Claire, who's barely talking to him, is paving the way to her liberation by studying to complete her long-abandoned degree. Michael Francis is distraught at the thought of losing her.
O'Farrell piles on the misery in this section of the novel, though Monica, 10 months younger than her brother, is too peevish and self-righteous to arouse much compassion. Her first husband left her after a rude discovery of just how determined she was not to have children. Now she's terribly unhappy in her new country life, married to an older antiques dealer whose two small daughters treat her with disdain.
O'Farrell's sympathies generally lie most solidly with black sheep — or rather, black ewes. As such, Aoife (pronounced like Eva with an F sound, we're told) is the bleating heart of the novel. Ten years Monica's junior, she had, in her mother's words, "gone off the rails" and "flounced" to New York City three years earlier after a major falling-out with her sister. This defection capped a miserable childhood blighted by undiagnosed dyslexia. Enthralled with her freedom from family censure, Aoife has managed to support herself by working multiple jobs, including the first she's ever loved, as a photographer's assistant. But her carefully hidden illiteracy threatens her job and a serious budding romance.
With its tight time frame and carefully choreographed dramatic revelations, Instructions for a Heatwave unfolds with the efficiency of a well-constructed three-act drama. O'Farrell's dialogue is dead on, but she's equally skilled at letting small gestures, such as an arm draped around another's shoulder, tell us all we need to know.
The absent father is somewhat beside the point and fizzles as a galvanizing narrative force when O'Farrell discloses the mystery behind his disappearance — without much fanfare, and well before we expect it. Her real concern, it turns out, is not the Riordans' secret history but the familial ties that both bind and bruise — and the importance of forgiving those you love, whatever their trespasses.
How to weather crises and soaring temperatures? Get on with "the small acts of life." And when things really heat up, clear the air. Instructions for a Heatwave is a beautiful book about forgiveness.