The Wednesday Web Browser: Styron Revisited, MFA Event in New York, and My Other Blog

It’s no secret to this blog’s readers that I’m a fan of the work of William Styron. Which is why I was particularly interested to find Jess Row’s essay, “Styron’s Choice,” revisiting a literary controversy from the late 1960s.
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If you’re in the New York area and thinking about an MFA, you might want to check out this event, slated for tomorrow night and featuring Kimiko Hahn, Distinguished Professor in the Queens College-CUNY MFA Program, and Robert Polito, who directs the Writing Program at The New School. ($5 “suggested donation”)
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Don’t forget to check in once in awhile over on my other blog, where I focus on literature, culture, and, occasionally, politics with a distinctly Jewish emphasis. The most recent post discusses the fabulous, don’t-miss film “A Secret” (“Un Secret”), based on Philippe Grimbert’s roman à clef.

Celebrating Marie Brenner’s Apples & Oranges

As common as book parties may be in this city, I’m rarely invited to any. Which, given my less-than-stellar small talk skills, is probably a good thing.

But this evening I will be attending a celebration for Marie Brenner’s latest, Michiko Kakutani-lauded book, a memoir titled Apples & Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found. And I can’t wait.

So how did this event appear on my calendar? Well, the party’s host is my mom’s beloved cousin, P. (P.’s mother and my Grandma Rose were sisters). And through her father, P. is also Marie’s cousin. I spent nearly all my childhood Thanksgivings and Passovers at the Westchester home of P.’s parents, and that’s where I first met Marie and her husband and daughter, and began to learn about and follow her work (it’s the reason I began subscribing to Vanity Fair). So I was of course very excited to read the Kakutani review last week; I’m even more excited for this evening’s event.

For now, though, please allow me to refer you to Marie’s Web site, where you can learn more about Apples & Oranges, and about its author.

Friday Find: Guest Post on the London Book Fair

Today we’re lucky to have a report on the London Book Fair direct from the United Kingdom. Wales-based BJ Epstein went to London for the occasion, and provides a guest post here. Thank you, BJ!

On April 14-16, the London Book Fair took place at Earl’s Court in London. The fact that the fair’s official directory was over 400 pages tells you something about how many attendees and exhibitors there were. Categories included everything from animal care and breeding to English as a foreign language, from computer books to religious texts, from fashion to military, and from paranormal to travel books.

The Arab world was the focus for this year’s fair, and that meant that there were many stands with information about various Arabic-speaking countries and their literature. Some offered traditional pastries, travel information, or fact sheets, too. The booth for Saudi Arabia had two very large models of mosques, the Great Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque. Another booth featured 1001 Inventions, an exhibit on what Muslims have contributed to the world, including vocabulary worlds and medical techniques. One of the many cafés at the fair offered foods such as hummus or kebabs.

As a translator, writer, and editor, I often had the sense that the fair wasn’t really for me. Publishers and agents were on the prowl, looking to buy and sell rights, and they weren’t always very friendly when people who were not there to do business came by. Meanwhile, printers, distributors, packagers, stationers, and other such exhibitors sat in their booths alone, seeming a bit lonely. Several times, while looking at books on display, I was eagerly asked what publisher I was from, and when I replied that I was a translator, people quickly lost interest and left me alone to browse. I had thought that publishers would want to talk to people who could serve to translate, edit, or promote their works, and not just to other publishers or literary agents.

Personally, I found it most interesting to talk to people from literary organizations and from magazines. I learned more about how literary organizations from places such as Russia or Thailand try to promote their works abroad and also about subsidies for translation (for more on this, see my blog).

Another part of the fair that I quite enjoyed was a presentation on e-books. I learned that sales for e-books have increased dramatically in the past year or so, especially in the case of academic texts (because students are used to reading on-screen and also appreciate the lower prices of e-books), romance novels, and niche books, among others. An example of a niche book that was given is one that teaches readers how to dance. An advantage of an e-book is that it can be embedded with videos or animation, so that instead of having to use both a book and a DVD, everything is together on one “page”, and readers can read and practice dancing at the same time. I had known very little about e-books before (despite having edited and produced one as a fundraiser for Bryn Mawr College), and I found it fascinating to hear about all the different formats, readers, and methods of promotion. If e-books catch on as the speaker predicted, this could be a real boon to writers who want to cut out the middleman and produce their own books, since e-self-publishing isn’t too respected at the moment.

There were several seminars and readings at the book fair, but I missed them all because of other activities. One thing I didn’t miss was the cooking demonstrations. Next to a very large display of recent cookbooks from around the world, chefs such as Yann Barault from Le Cordon Bleu (who made cod with morels while berating his assistant) or Hayden Wood from Australia (who improvised cocktails, dancing and shaking the bottles at the same time), tempted us with samples of their creations. Many organizations and countries had receptions at various points during the fair, as well, sometimes at restaurants or at ambassadors’ homes.

I was at the fair for many hours, studying all sorts of books from every corner of the planet, and by the end, I felt overwhelmed by all the works out there. I knew I’d never be able to read even a fraction of those books, even though, like many practicing writers, I am an avid reader. I spent the entire train ride back to Swansea reading, visions of all the piles of the books spurring me on.

Harman Writer-in-Residence Program News

Last night I had the amazing opportunity to attend a celebration marking the tenth anniversary of the Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence Program at Baruch College of The City University of New York. Apart from the chance to meet and chat with Lorrie Moore, one of the program’s first visiting writers who came back to campus for this event (and author of some of my all-time favorite short stories), I also discovered some terrific news: Another of my literary idols, Francine Prose (see my review of her Reading Like a Writer here), will be the Fall 2008 Harman Writer-in-Residence. Lucky Baruch students who will have the chance to work with her, and lucky me who, you can bet, will be keeping tabs on the Harman Program site for the announcement of Prose’s public reading in October.