The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
In The Wall Street Journal, Jordan Ellenberg examines which bestsellers people aren't really reading. The math professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, uses the (unscientific but clever) method of looking at where the most highlighted passages in the e-book versions are. He demonstrates what we already knew: Hardly anyone actually finishes French economist Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the 700-page bestseller about inequality. Judging by the highlights, people do tend to finish Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch and Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire.
Roxane Gay has a new dystopian story in A Public Space: "It was more than a decade into the second secession of the South and the rise in tensions that led to the New Civil War. The world had changed. Parker Coles Johnson had changed." (Read my profile of Gay here.)
Kelly Sundberg wrote an extraordinary essay about domestic violence for Guernica: "He only hit me in the face once. A red bruise bloomed across my cheek, and my eye was split and oozing. Afterwards, we both sat on the bathroom floor, exhausted. 'You made me hit you in the face,' he said mournfully. 'Now everyone is going to know.' "
Notable Books Coming Out This Week:
In Landline, by Rainbow Rowell, Georgie McCool's husband takes their two daughters home to Omaha with him over Christmas while Georgie stays behind in Los Angeles to work. Depressed and missing Neal, Georgie discovers that an old yellow landline can magically call Neal in the past — and maybe even save their marriage. It sounds too cute by half, but Rowell is a witty, low-key writer and the moments of sweetness are genuinely earned. As NPR's Neda Ulaby said in an interview with Rowell, "Rainbow Rowell writes conventional fiction unconventionally. They're romances, but there's no meeting-cute or ripping bodices — the people in them seem real."
In a book as coiled, strange and tentacular as its subject, Matthew Gavin Frank considers the squid. Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer is an act of love and erudition — a nearly 300-page essay about a giant squid, the man who first photographed it, and the sea that birthed it ("a giant holding smaller giants").
Tiphanie Yanique's shimmering debut novel is a family epic set in the Virgin Islands. Land of Love and Drowning follows two beautiful sisters who are orphaned when their father dies in a shipwreck, but the islands themselves are the novel's most bewitching characters. Yanique writes: "[T]hese islands are just too beautiful. You walk out of your own front door into cathedrals. You step down your own stairs up towards an altar. God speaks from the bougainvillea bush, from Mountain Top. You go to the beach and swim in holy water. The beauty, like God's face, is ubiquitous and blinding."
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