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Books, authors and all things bookish
Chris Weitz talks about his YA novel, 'The Young World'

"I write lying down — much like Marcel Proust. The only thing I have in common with him," Chris Weitz says, laughing.

Known as a director and screenwriter, Weitz has just published his first novel, "The Young World" (Little Brown: 384 pp, $19), a YA thriller set in a dystopic Manhattan. "It's a lot less recursive and reflexive than Proust," he notes. "There's a higher body count."

In his book, a virus has wiped out all the adults and small children, leaving only teens. The survivors have formed regional tribes; the one based in Greenwich Village is led by slightly uptight teenager Jefferson and the sassy girl he pines for, Donna. The two tell the story in alternating chapters.

"I believe in the Society of Mind Theory," Weitz says, citing neurologist Marvin Minsky. "When you're writing characters, I think you're trying to emulate different people in different facets of yourself. So somewhere in me is a teenage girl just waiting to get out."

This seems a little incongruous for the...

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A movable feast of words in Ray Johnson books

Although artist Ray Johnson created plenty of conventional art objects — mostly quixotic, irreverent collages — his most sustained efforts took the form of letters, sent to hundreds of recipients, including such art stars as Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono and John Cage. Throughout his 40-year career, he zealously monitored the membership of his own artistic movement, the New York Correspondance School (misspelling and double or triple innuendoes intentional). And although he detested the term — or any label, for that matter — he was a leading practitioner of mail art, in which language and the letter opened onto endless chains of meaning.

Selections from this prodigious output are lovingly documented in two new titles from Siglio Press. "The Paper Snake" is a reprint of a 1965 artist's book first published by Johnson's friend Dick Higgins for his Something Else Press. "Not Nothing: Selected Writings by Ray Johnson, 1954-1994" is a more comprehensive collection edited and capably introduced by...

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'Lost and Found in Johannesburg' maps the growth of a writer and nation

A love of maps is every true traveler's secret pleasure.

As a correspondent in Africa, years before one could follow a path rendered by MapQuest or Google Earth, I came to love and rely on those hand-stenciled city maps in the Lonely Planet guidebook and the continent maps I'd pick up at Paris bookstores.

Maps are more than utilitarian, though. They allow us to take stock of our surroundings and day-dream — or plot — our next conquest.

In his lyrical and achingly touching memoir, South African writer Mark Gevisser taps into a lifelong love of the street maps of his hometown to tell a story that is personal and universal. "Lost and Found in Johannesburg" is a riveting and enchantingly nuanced tale of a young white writer-to-be's growing understanding of the racially charged land he was born into, as well as a more personal journey: his coming out as a gay man.

The road to self-discovery he traces is all the more compelling because it is set against the broader narrative of modern South...

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Gertrude Stein meets the Great War with a zeppelin air raid

One hundred years ago, Europe stood poised on the brink of war. The literary echoes are being heard in English-language newspapers and websites this week.

The Guardian is posting the dispatches that ran in the newspaper 100 years ago, day by day. “Europe is very near war,” reads today’s entry. “Last night even the firmest friends of peace were almost without hope.” The July 31, 1914 edition of The Los Angeles Times also reported the ominous signs: “Austria will declare war against Russia tomorrow.”

But one of the biggest caches of literary works related to the war is being released by The Atlantic this week in a commemorative issue. It features excerpts from pieces that appeared in the magazine as the Great War unfolded, including pieces by Gertrude Stein, H.G. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois and H.L. Mencken.

Stein’s contribution is an excerpt from her 1933 piece, “The War and Gertrude Stein,” in which the novelist and essayist writes from the point of view of her lover, Alice B. Tolkas. She...

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'Kingdom of Ice' uncovers a polar adventure frozen in time

The great achievement of Hampton Sides' unforgettable new book about a group of American Arctic explorers only becomes apparent halfway into its 400-plus pages.

"In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette" tells the story of an almost entirely forgotten episode that unfolded at the very end of the Age of Exploration. Three centuries after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci lent his name to a mysterious land mass in the Western Hemisphere, the United States of America sent off its own expedition to one of the last corners of the globe as yet unknown to man: the North Pole.

The men of the Jeannette hope for glory and fame. Instead, they discover an ice-bound Heart of Darkness. They find that some of the most isolated parts of the globe have been degraded by man; and that untamed nature can bring out the worst and best in people.

It's 1879 and there are no satellites to warn the men of unseen hazards, or freaky turns in the weather. The men might go to...

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'Panic in a Suitcase' a vivid immigrant tale of two cities

Jewish immigrants have provided a rich source of comedy — some of it dark — in American literature. Think Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Gary Shteyngart and, more recently, Anya Ulinich. Make way for a fresh female voice. Yelena Akhtiorskaya, born in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1985, immigrated with her family to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn — a.k.a. Little Odessa — when she was 7. Her first novel, "Panic in a Suitcase," about a family who does the same, is a riotous, satirical take on the aspirational escape-to-a-better-life saga. Her energetic prose is too controlled to be called manic, but it's got Red Bull-strength hyper-caffeinated intensity.

When Esther and Robert Nasmertov, a pediatrician and neurologist, immigrate in 1991 with their grown daughter Marina, her husband Levik, and their 7-year-old granddaughter Frida, they leave behind their son Pasha, an antisocial, up-and-coming poet with an "allergy to life-decision discussions" who is part black sheep, part source of irritation and...

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Rick Perlstein's 'The Invisible Bridge' spans Nixon-Reagan transition

I watched Watergate unfold as if it were a spectator sport. Not just the Irvin committee hearings, at which John W. Dean intoned that "there was a cancer growing on the presidency," but also the House Judiciary Committee hearings, the press conferences, all of it.

This was the beginning, or so it seemed, of a new era in American politics, an era of humility and transparency, involving, as Rick Perlstein explains in "The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan," "a new definition of patriotism, one built upon questioning authority and unsettling ossified norms." Who could have imagined that in 1980, just six years after Richard Nixon's resignation, Ronald Reagan would roll to the presidency with a promise of morning in America, his sense of our identity, our destiny, that of "a shining city on a hill"?

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FOR THE RECORD

In the Aug. 3 Arts & Books section, the review of "The Invisible Bridge" refers to the Ervin committee as the Irvin committee.

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...

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John Dean takes a fresh look at Watergate in 'Nixon Defense'

"My voice on the Nixon tapes is really very clear and very good," says John Dean, adjusting the microphone recording him on a summer day in Westwood. Aug. 9 marks the 40th anniversary of President Richard M. Nixon's resignation from office, and Dean is publishing a new book, "The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It," a day-by-day chronicle of the Watergate scandal.

Although Watergate has been explored in books and film, some of the story has not yet been told, Dean says.

"I knew enough to know that we didn't have a very full picture," he explains. "I intentionally don't flag new material in the book, but almost every page there's something I didn't know."

Going back to the original tape recordings, "The Nixon Defense" (Viking: 784 pp., $35) starts with Nixon's first conversation about the Watergate break-in in June 1972 and ends in July 1973, when his secret taping system was dismantled.

The book is an exhaustive return to the scene of the crime — crimes that would send...

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An epic, posthumous novel from Oscar Hijuelos to be published

When he died of a heart attack last year at age 62, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Oscar Hijuelos had been at work for more than a decade on an epic and potentially career-defining novel. It was a fact unknown to all but a few people closest to him.

Now Grand Central Publishing has acquired the 859-page novel, which is based on the friendship between Mark Twain and the explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley. "Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise," will be published in the fall of 2015.

Grand Central will also publish Hijuelos' "Another Spaniard in the Works," a short story about a musician who meets John Lennon in 1980, the year the ex-Beatle was shot dead by a deranged fan, the AP reports. In the '60s, Lennon had published a book of humorous writings and drawings called "A Spaniard in the Works."

Lori Carlson-Hijuelos, his widow, told the New York Times that Hijuelos began writing the novel about Twain and Stanley around 2002. His research for the book took him to Wales, England and...

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George W. Bush book on George H.W. Bush to be published Nov. 11

Former President George W. Bush has written a biography of his father, former President George H.W. Bush, to be published in November by Crown.

The book, announced late Wednesday, does not yet have a title. In less than a day, its pre-orders have taken the book to the No. 2 spot at Barnes & Noble online.

Crown described the book in its official statement: "A unique and intimate biography, the book covers the entire scope of the elder President Bush’s life and career, including his service in the Pacific during World War II, his pioneering work in the Texas oil business, and his political rise as a Congressman, U.S. Representative to China and the United Nations, CIA Director, Vice President, and President."

It continues, "The book shines new light on both the accomplished leader and the warm, decent man known best by his family. In addition, George W. Bush discusses his father’s influence on him throughout his own life, from his childhood in West Texas to his early campaign trips with...

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Listening to James Baldwin (and others) in 'Calliope Author Readings'

James Baldwin's 90th birthday falls this week, and to mark the occasion, I've been listening to him read. The source? “Calliope Author Readings,” a set of two CDs, recorded in the early 1960s and featuring, among other highlights, two tour de force performances by Baldwin from his novels “Another Country” and “Giovanni’s Room.”

It’s a delightfully low-tech wonder — no tricks, no frills, no sound effects; just those measured intonations, and the power of his words.

The same is true of the six other writers in “Calliope Author Readings,” all but one of them dead now. These recordings (they are also available for download) were originally released as a series of seven-inch records to be sold in bookstores, and they feature a who’s who of mid-20th-century American fiction: James Jones, John Updike, William Styron, Philip Roth.

Bernard Malamud reads his late 1950s story “The Mourners” in a quiet Brooklyn tenor, while Nelson Algren, (whose voice, like Malamud's, I had never heard before)...

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Amazon, in Hachette dispute, says e-books should be $9.99 or less

Amazon made a semi-public statement about its dispute with Hachette in a post in its own Kindle discussion forum late Tuesday. An Amazon representative has confirmed that the statement, signed "The Amazon Books Team," is an official post from the company.

Although the location is not surprising -- Amazon has recently been using its public message boards for official corporate communications -- it is notable, considering what the post says.

"With this update, we're providing specific information about Amazon's objectives," it

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