Faces to Watch 2011: Books



What should the 21st century library look like? That's the question Ken Brecher has been asking; it propelled him to visit more than 60 of the 73 branches of the Los Angeles Public Library in his first 10 months as president of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. The foundation raises money to support the programs of the city's libraries, a critical role as the libraries have fallen victim to recent city budget cuts. In July, L.A.'s libraries implemented a reduced schedule — they're now open only five days a week, closed Sundays and Mondays. Yet Brecher, who led the Sundance Institute for 13 years, has a new convert's enthusiasm, skeins of energy and an active curiosity about the library and its role. "The librarians have welcomed me as an anthropologist," Brecher says. "The idea of the library is still fresh to me." In December, the Library Foundation launched a new night life series, This Is Your Library, a kind of live talk show with cocktails and music — and tickets sold out. The series is just the first of many efforts planned by Brecher, in partnership with City Librarian Martín Gómez, to help those most in need of the library's resources while facilitating the joy of discovery.

—Carolyn Kellogg



If there were a time when Tina Brown was on the outs with the media elite — say, when her magazine Talk folded in 2002 — it is clear that times have changed. Brown has emerged as a confident new media mogul with the Daily Beast, her 2-year-old magazine-style website, which has an intelligently salacious tone (not unlike that of Vanity Fair, where Brown has also been editor; she also had a long tenure at the New Yorker). What will set Brown apart from Arianna Huffington, another doyenne of new media, is that she's also now got a second job: editor in chief of Newsweek, the 77-year-old magazine. It's a merger, enabled and blessed by two major players: Daily Beast owner Barry Diller and 92-year-old investor Sidney Harman, who bought Newsweek for just $1 in November. Newsweek wasn't quite the bargain it seems — Harman agreed to take on its debt, said to be in the tens of millions — and the magazine's readership and advertising have been in steady decline. And the Daily Beast hasn't turned a profit — it was expected to lose $10 million in 2010. So what has Brown got? The new Newsweek Daily Beast Co., and the chance to make old media and new media work for each other rather than against. It's a unique position, and the path Brown blazes is one that many in old media will be watching. Can two negatives make a positive? Brown is poised to find out.

—Carolyn Kellogg



In 2008, Lisa Pearson published her first book under the imprint of Siglio Press, an independent publisher based in Eagle Rock that insists on the beauty and viability of print. Two years later, Pearson has expanded her list, putting out three books in 2010. Her operating principle is a simple one: to think about the book as object, to focus on design as well as content, to demand a space for physical books in a culture that seems obsessed with other things.

Siglio's first few titles (Joe Brainard's "The Nancy Book," Nancy Spero's "Torture of Women") were artist books. Recently, though, Pearson has begun to expand the press' sensibility, publishing a novel, Danielle Dutton's "Sprawl," and a kind of demographic atlas called "Everything Sings" by Denis Wood.

Featuring an introduction by Ira Glass, the book is unlike anything I've ever seen, a series of maps of Wood's North Carolina neighborhood, in which the community is represented by a variety of factors: streetlights, mail carrier routes, jack-o'-lanterns, fallen autumn leaves. The result is a volume that is beautiful and informative that encourages us to see the world in different ways. It's a perfect Siglio project, a book that could not exist in any other form but print.

—David L. Ulin



What a great idea. For his fifth novel, "The Tragedy of Arthur" (Random House, April), Arthur Phillips has created — or discovered, to go along with the conceit of his fiction — a lost Shakespeare play, "The Most Excellent and Tragical Historie of Arthur, King of Britain," purportedly written in 1597. Or has he? That's part of the point of this audacious novel, to blur the lines between reality and imagination, to use the play as a starting point for a meditation on the nature of family, identity, deception and literary heritage.

Here, as in "The Egyptologist," he borrows from Vladimir Nabokov's "Pale Fire," which also involves an invented work of literature. the play is set up with a long (250-page) introduction by a writer named Arthur Phillips, who may or may not be the novelist. But there the resemblance ends. "I have never much liked Shakespeare," the character writes in the opening. "I find the plays more pleasant to read than to watch, but I could do without him, up to and including this unstoppable and unfortunate book." How fun to watch a writer be so discursive and irreverent, producing a story within a story that cannot help but comment on itself.

—David L. Ulin



It's no fun to be a writer's kid. At best, you always have to compete with your parent's work for attention. At worst … well, let's just say the demons can be fitful and severe. And if the parent/writer is famous, it amps things up another level, guaranteeing that you'll always be known through the filter of that other voice.

Alexandra Styron knows this situation well. The youngest child of William Styron — a key member of the last generation in which a novelist might legitimately be considered central to the American cultural conversation — she observes in "Reading My Father" (Scribner, April) that "[u]ntil 1985, my father's tempestuous spirit ruled our family's private life as surely as his eminence defined the more public one."

The date is telling, since 1985 is the year her father fell into a near-suicidal depression, recounted in "Darkness Visible," his piercing 1990 account of the ordeal. But equally, if not more, important is that distinction between private and public, which Styron weaves into the very fiber of her memoir, looking at her father as man and author, excavating the textures of his life.

—David L. Ulin

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