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Books, authors and all things bookish
David Shields takes over Dazed magazine -- for the day

Wednesday morning on the website of the British arts and culture magazine Dazed, David Shields curates a group of writings (essays, poems, journal entries) that foreground “the question of how the writer solves being alive.” The contributors are Wayne Koestenbaum, Sarah Manguso, Ander Monson and L.A.’s own Maggie Nelson — four writers I admire quite a bit for, in Shields’ words, “possessing as thin a membrane as possible between life and art.” He continues: “I no longer believe in Great Man Speaks. I no longer believe in Great Man Alone in a Room, Writing a Masterpiece. I believe in art as pathology lab, landfill, recycling station, death sentence, aborted suicide note, lunge at redemption. Your art is most alive and dangerous when you use it against yourself. That’s why I pick at my scabs. … I wanted literary collage to assuage human loneliness. Nothing can assuage human loneliness. Literature doesn’t lie about this — which is what makes it essential.” In many ways, then, this is part...

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Man Booker longlist announced: First global list embraces America

The first-ever global longlist for the Man Booker Prize was announced Wednesday, and includes four Americans. For 2014, books written in English and published in Britain were eligible, regardless of the author's nationality. Americans on the list are Joshua Ferris, Karen Joy Fowler, Siri Hustvedt and Richard Powers. Joseph O'Neill, who lives in New York, was also longlisted but as an Irish American had already been eligible for the prize. All told, the longlist has six Britons, four Americans, one Irish writer, one Irish American and one Australian. Previously, only authors from Britain, the Commonwealth nations, Ireland and Zimbabwe were eligible. When the change was announced last year, some in the British literary world expressed concern that British writers might be shortchanged by the expansion, shouldered aside by the larger American publishing market. The significant presence of American authors on the list may give them cause for continued concern. ...

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Following Raymond Chandler's L.A. footsteps on his birthday

In 1932, a 44-year-old oil company employee walked out of the Bank of Italy building at the corner of Olive and 7th streets in Los Angeles for the last time. Raymond Chandler had just been fired from his job for the Dabney Oil Company. It seemed he drank too much and had earned a reputation as a womanizer. Eighty-two years later, the Bank of Italy building at 649 S. Olive is a sealed-off, abandoned shell. The 10-story office building has not yet been swept up in the loft explosion that’s rehabilitated much of the rest of downtown Los Angeles. Its doors are chained, the ground-floor windows sealed off. As for Chandler: Well, he’s gone on to immortality. Today is Raymond Chandler’s birthday. The icon of noir fiction was born on July 23, 1888 (and died in 1959). He was a late bloomer, his literary masterpieces produced during a second career he began in his mid-40s. “It was only after he got fired ... that Chandler set about dusting off the literary ambitions he’d begun to cultivate as a...

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Susan Coll on her novel 'The Stager,' social satire and rabbits

At the center of Susan Coll's new novel, "The Stager," is a faux Tudor home up for sale in the DC suburbs, a family and a bitter pet rabbit named Dominique. After being named Vice President of Transparency for a large corporation, Bella has to move her former tennis pro husband, Lars, and their 5th grade daughter, Elsa, to London, and sell their home. Enter the stager, whose job is to rearrange and fix up and depersonalize people's homes because "statistically, staged homes sell faster and for more money." Coll's dark humor comes through when the stager quickly realizes she is in the home of her former best friend. With growing questions of relationships, sanity, and the whereabouts of the rabbit, the novel has the makings of a social satire. Coll, the author of several novels including "Beach Week" and "Acceptance," later made into a television movie, chatted with us by phone from her home in Washington, DC. She will be reading at Vroman's Wednesday at 7 p.m. What initially intrigued...

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Jean-Patrick Manchette's 'neo-polar' noir

Jean-Patrick Manchette’s “The Mad and the Bad” (released last week by NYRB Classics: 164 pp., $14.95 paper) starts with a murder: A British hit man named Thompson stabs a pederast in the heart. Thompson has a bad stomach – “The cramps had him almost doubled over,” Manchette tells us – until he kills, at which point “hunger gnawed at him in the most repellent way.” Conscience? The need for redemption? Not in Manchette’s universe, where violence begins with what we do to ourselves. Nor should his victim’s predilection for children lull us into thinking Thompson has a sense of ethics; his next job, around which this novel is constructed, involves the kidnapping (with intent to kill) of a young boy. And yet, for Manchette, this is only the beginning, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Thompson is just one participant in a drama in which everyone is corrupt. This is the point of the neo-polar, the type of crime novel Manchette pioneered, in which, fused with a larger social or...

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Edan Lepucki thanks Colbert Nation for making 'California' a hit

Edan Lepucki appeared on "The Colbert Report" Tuesday night to talk about her debut novel, "California," and thank Colbert and his fans for getting it onto bestseller lists. "Thank you Colbert Nation for buying my book and reading it," she said. "I'm so, so incredibly grateful to be on this show and to have my book talked about. I just really appreciate it. So thank you." Lepucki's book has become a battering ram in Colbert's battle against Amazon. "For the past six weeks we in the Colbert Nation have been at war with Amazon," Colbert explained. "Oh, we're going to wipe the smirk right off that box's face." The online retailer has been playing hardball in its negotiations with Hachette, Colbert's -- and Lepucki's -- publisher. Amazon has imposed artificial delays on existing Hachette books, made them difficult to find on its site and impossible to pre-order.  To illustrate their tactics to a wide audience, Colbert selected a single upcoming Hachette book  -- Lepucki's "California" --...

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In 'Fight Club 2,' Chuck Palahniuk will wrestle with fatherhood

The popular 1996 novel “Fight Club,” which was made into an even-more-popular film starring Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, will soon get a sequel in the form of a new comic book series. In an interview with USA Today ahead of this weekend’s Comic-Con in San Diego, author Chuck Palahniuk has revealed the basic plot. “Chuck Palahniuk is breaking the first two rules of Fight Club,” Brian Truitt wrote for USA Today. “He's talking about Fight Club.” “Fight Club 2” will be a 10-comic series illustrated by Cameron Steward for Dark Horse Comics, to be released in May 2015. “Fight Club 2” will unfold in both the future and the past. “It picks up a decade after the ending of his original book, where the protagonist is married to equally problematic Marla Singer and has a 9-year-old son named Junior, though the narrator is failing his son in the same way his dad failed him,” Truitt wrote. Most of the characters from the first book will return, including the terror group “Project Mayhem,” and Tyler...

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A deeper look at the mystery of Harper Lee

In the last few years, Harper Lee has been in the news. She lost her copyright to "To Kill A Mockingbird" and had to sue her former agent to get it back. She sought to block the small museum in her hometown of Monroeville, Ala., from selling "To Kill a Mockingbird" merchandise. She has, through an attorney, disavowed the new book "The Mockingbird Next Door" by Marja Mills, a journalist who became Lee's neighbor -- although lawyers representing her sister say the book was undertaken with Harper Lee's consent. That's quite a lot for a writer who has strategically stayed out of the limelight since the 1960s. Especially for one who is now 88 years old and in an assisted living facility. New York magazine's Boris Kachka looks into the mysterious case of Harper Lee and her decline. "If our country had a formalized process for anointing literary saints, Harper Lee might be first in line, and one of the miracles held up as proof would be her choice to live out her final years in the small town...

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A 'Fifty Shades of Grey' teaser trailer, plus Charlie Hunnam's exit

We've got months before Valentine's Day 2015, when the film version of E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" hits screens, but the sneak peeks have begun. The first official trailer is set to debut online Thursday, and in advance there is the teaser trailer, above. Beyoncé caused a stir posting the teaser to her Instagram account; its breathy soundtrack is likely from her song "Crazy in Love." What's her connection to the film? Maybe she's involved in the soundtrack -- or maybe she's just another enthusiastic reader. Meanwhile, the man who was originally cast as bondage enthusiast Christian Grey is speaking out about the film. On Sunday, Charlie Hunnam told television critics, "I'm just really excited to see it." Hunnam was cast in "Fifty Shades of Grey" and then withdrew, citing commitments to the television show he stars in, "Sons of Anarchy." He appeared Sunday at the television industry's fall preview, TCA -- where in addition to questions about the television show he fielded...

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Gored author of bull-running book will return to Pamplona

Bill Hillmann wrote about how not to get gored by bulls in Pamplona in "Fiesta: How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona," then got gored in Pamplona. And yet he plans to return to Spain's annual running of the bulls, he writes in the Washington Post. Hillmann, who grew up in a rough part of Chicago, writes, "I will keep running for another chance to lead a Spanish fighting bull up the street. When that happens, I become one with the fiercest, most majestic animal on Earth. And in those moments, I am at peace." After being gored in the thigh, Hillmann was hospitalized. He underwent surgery to remove pieces of horn and clothing from his leg. In his new essay, he recounts the goring: "I had no room to escape when the bull charged toward me. I tripped over one Brit’s feet, and another slammed his hand into my back, propelling me toward the bull’s horns. Two of the Brits crisscrossed the animal while getting out of the way, while the third sputtered backward. The bull, named Bravito, meaning...

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'Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel' conjures a new literary form

It's tempting to frame Anya Ulinich's "Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel" in terms of its antecedents: Bernard Malamud and Anton Chekhov, on the one hand, both of whom are referenced in the narrative, and on the other, graphic novelists such as Marjane Satrapi and Harvey Pekar, whose work is rich, allusive and (perhaps most important) alive with words. What's more accurate, however, is that "Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel" has no antecedents, that it transcends its influences so thoroughly it creates a form, a language, all its own. Ulinich wrote a previous (nongraphic) novel, 2007's "Petropolis," which tells the story of a Russian mail-order bride named Sasha Goldberg, who ends up in Brooklyn by way of Arizona. Something of a similar set of migrations is at play here, but don't let that mislead you: This new book is a departure in nearly every way. Most obvious, of course, is its status as a graphic novel, the interplay of words and images through which so much of the narrative unfolds. Ulinich...

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It's here: Amazon's e-book subscription service, Kindle Unlimited

Leaked on Wednesday, launched on Friday: Meet Kindle Unlimited, Amazon's e-book subscription service. Think of it as Netflix for e-books. Like Netflix, the idea is that the service will provide unfettered access to all the content you might imagine for a single subscription price. Yet that's more a fantasy than reality. Amazon's e-book subscription service includes about 640,000 e-books for Kindle. That's certainly plenty, more than any person could expect to read in a lifetime. And yet it may not contain the books people want to read. Is Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" included in Kindle Unlimited? No. E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" isn't there either. James Patterson may publish piles of bestsellers annually, but only one thing by him is available through Kindle Unlimited -- a collection of four very short stories published as a Kindle Edition, 31 pages total. And don't try getting Hillary Clinton's "Hard Choices" from Kindle Unlimited. A search for it turns up a book that shares...

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