Viewed in a certain light, the thousands of inscribed clay tablets unearthed over the past century on Crete and mainland Greece are profoundly boring. Essentially the scattered files of an early civilization’s accounting department, the tablets list rations of wheat and figs, record the results of the local census, and keep track of broken versus unbroken chariot wheels. Fully 800 of them are, as Margalit Fox writes in her new book, The Riddle of the Labyrinth, “quite literally devoted to counting sheep.” In short, they are not the world’s most fascinating reading material. But for a long time after their discovery that didn’t matter, because no one had any idea at all how to read them.
First, some explanation, in case you have not finished your assigned YA reading and/or just happen to be a grown adult: Shailene Woodley is the star of not one but two adaptations of major YA best sellers currently in the works; the first is Divergent, the Hunger Games-y trilogy written by Veronica Roth, and the other is The Fault in Our Stars, a weepy (but funny!) cancer story by John Green. Since these are big-deal movies, the Tumblr set has been busy fretting over the rest of the casting choices, and last weekend they finally got a big one: Augustus Waters, the male lead and love interest in The Fault in Our Stars, will be played by 19-year-old Ansel Elgort. As it turns out, Elgort also has a role in Divergent, which seems like reasonable teen synergy until you find out that he plays Woodley's brother. Now The Fault in Our Stars is a cancer story about Shailene Woodley making out with her onscreen relative.
The best advice I ever got about reading came from the critic and scholar Louis Menand. Back in 2005, I spent six months in Boston and, for the fun of it, sat in on a lit seminar he was teaching at Harvard. The week we were to read Gertrude Stein’s notoriously challenging Tender Buttons, one student raised her hand and asked—bravely, I thought—if Menand had any advice about how best to approach it. In response, he offered up the closest thing to a beatific smile I have ever seen on the face of a book critic. “With pleasure,” he replied.
In a show of Atticus Finch-like determination, Harper Lee is suing her literary agent over the copyright to her Pulitzer Prize-winning 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The reclusive 87-year-old author alleges that Samuel Pinkus "took advantage of her declining hearing and eyesight seven years ago to get her to assign the book's copyright to him" without payment after his father-in-law, Lee's longtime agent Eugene Winick, became ill. The lawsuit also claims that Pinkus ignored Lee's previous attempts to get the copyright reassigned, and that he failed to respond to offers to make the novel available as an e-book. Lee is asking that the copyright be turned over to her, along with all the To Kill a Mockingbird commissions Pinkus received from 2007 onward. If people are still taking legal action over books, then how can they be coming to an end?
To help us close out Vulture's very funny Week O' Comedy, we asked comedian Jim Gaffigan — known for many years of stand-up only some of which is devoted to hilarious, loving bits on the topics of cake, McDonald's and of course Hot Pockets — to step way out of his food wheelhouse and sample some healthy junk food. Watch as Jim and our own Julie Klausner discuss his new book Dad Is Fat (in stores Tuesday) while tearing through chocolate-covered kale, tofu pepperonis, and sesame-topped seaweed. Spoiler alert — their eating habits aren't likely to change any time soon. For more of these two, listen to this week's edition of Julie's podcast, "How Was Your Week," Jim's a guest over there too! You can even subscribe on iTunes here.
This week, Joe Hill (born Joseph Hillstrom King) released his fourth book, a 700-page horror story called NOS4A2. In March, his brother, Owen King, published his first novel, Double Feature, about a young filmmaker grappling with disappointment after his first movie falls apart. The two books couldn't be more different, but what their authors have in common, of course, is that their parents are Stephen and Tabitha King. Vulture spoke with the guys about their writing approaches, how they've learned to evade (and live with) their parents' shadows, and who beat up whom as a kid.
His unverified (but confirmed, in this interview with Collider) account is @Bitchuation, and he posted the first seven chapters of Glue last night. A sample line: "Mayhem. The French have a word for what came out the back of M's head: sweetbreads." Tasty!
Spiegel & Grau, the folks behind Jay-Z's art book/memoir/lyric collection Decoded, will publish a Beastie Boys memoir in 2015. Mike D and Ad-Rock are penning it, and they're "interested in challenging the form and making the book a multidimensional experience," publisher Julie Grau tells the Times. "There is a kaleidoscopic frame of reference, and it asks a reader to keep up." Agent Luke Janklow, who has been discussing a book project with the group for several years, says, "The first words out of Mike’s mouth were, 'I don’t want to do a straight memoir.'" Sacha Jenkins, who co-founded ego trip magazine and has worked as a writer and editor for Vibe, Rolling Stone, and Spin, will edit the book. There's no title yet, so we'll go ahead and suggest The Beastie Book.
On May 14, dark prince of conspiracy-based historical thrillery Dan Brown will release Inferno, the Dante-inspired fourth book in his Robert Langdon series, a novel whose first printing of 4 million copies all but guarantees that it’ll be a giant hit—and that it will create lots of extra work for everybody. Abandon all hope, ye who crack the spine.
Sloane Crosley — the author of personal essay collections I Was Told There'd Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number — has sold her first novel, to Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. The Clasp will follow a group of late-twentysomethings who attempt to rescue their friend from an obsession and wind up on a treasure hunt for the jewelry that inspired Guy De Maupassant's "The Necklace." It's out in 2015.
“One of the problems of things being long ago is that the heat goes out of them,” says Salman Rushdie, almost 25 years after Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced him to die, Rushdie is still probably the world’s most famous living writer. It’s the morning of the death of Margaret Thatcher—a political enemy of Rushdie the thirtysomething who became a guardian and defender in what he calls sweetly, several times, “the case of me.”
“Don’t make me hit you, sir,” Claire Messud says, as a jaywalker crosses in front of her 10-year-old Passat. Driving to her house not far from Harvard Square, the novelist is narrating an impromptu tour of mansion-lined Brattle Street, academia’s answer to Mulholland Drive. “I think I’m right that that street is where Yo-Yo Ma lives,” she says, tapping her window. “And Stephen Greenblatt lives along here. And Marjorie Garber. I actually haven’t read her work,” she whispers, as if the literary theorist might overhear her. “I know her by reputation only.”
Every week, Vulture faces the big, important questions in entertainment, and comes to some creative conclusions. This week, we investigated the origins of Jamie Foxx's Spider-Man 2 character, read too many YA novels, and did some unpleasant television math. You may have read some of these stories below, but you certainly didn’t read them all. We forgive you.
How's everyone doing with your new YA obsessions? Did you stay up late last night reading both Divergent books because once you start imaging Theo James as Four, you really can't put it down? Great! Then you'll be happy to learn that the third book's title was just announced, and it is … Allegiant. Our condolences to everyone who just lost money betting on Resurgent.
So, you're very excited about Catching Fire. We're all very excited about Catching Fire; that trailer looked great! But how will you pass the seven months (an eternity, in teen years) until the movie is finally released? Easy: by getting far too involved with another YA series and its soon-to-be-movie-franchise. (Or, in the case of Delirium, maybe-TV-series.) There are plenty out there to choose from — so many, in fact, that we made this flowchart to help you decide the one to take on next that is just right for you. Once you've found your reading destiny, scroll below to read (mostly spoiler-free) explanations of all of the series and see which other ones you should dig into. It's your YA obsession.
Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son — a novel about a North Korean outcast turned model citizen — has won the 2013 Fiction Pulitzer. (The other finalists were What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander and The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.) Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar won for Drama; Gilbert King's Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America took home the Non-Fiction prize; and Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds was awarded the Poetry Prize. Congratulations to the winners, and to literature in general for getting its Pulitzer back.
Beautiful Ruins — Jess Walter’s lovely novel about an aspiring actress, a failed novelist, a washed-up rock star, Cleopatra, the Amalfi Coast, and the Donner Party, among other things — will be made into a movie by none other than Todd Field (of In the Bedroom and Little Children fame). Walter and Field will co-write the screenplay; Lindsay Lohan will play the role of “Elizabeth Taylor’s back.” Just kidding! This is a classy affair.
Philip Roth: Unmasked, the latest entry in the long-running American Masters series, arrives just after the Newark-born author’s 80th birthday. The documentary, premiering on PBS tonight, is fascinating for its relatively unmediated portrait of the normally reticent Roth. Yet, as written and directed by French documentarian William Karel and Italian journalist Livia Manera, it is a deeply puzzling and contradictory piece of filmmaking. Fans of the author (and even critics) will likely find something of value in Roth’s surprisingly direct statements on his life, work, and mortality. And yet everything surrounding those moments seems to have been placed there by filmmakers uninterested in venturing past the surface or in exploring what their subject is actually saying.
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