Wednesday, November 14, 2007
A fine time for book fairs
'Tis the season for many things -- overindulging on poultry, overaccepting party invitations, overextending credit cards. It's also the season for a number of book fairs and festivals.

Though a number of cities hosted events earlier this month, there are still several left: Boston and Richmond have fairs coming up this weekend, National Children's Book Week runs until the 18th and Atlanta is currently enjoying its Jewish Book Festival. (November is traditionally Jewish Book Month, so there are a number of Jewish book fairs being held around the country.)

And in our Internet Age it's no surprise that there's also an online festival, the Love of Reading Online Book Fair, which begins Wednesday and runs through Friday. This second annual edition will include podcasts and author readings, discussion groups, and -- for those who are hoping eventually to sit on the author side of the table -- advice from agents and publishers.

So while you're getting ready for the holidays, take some time to feed your mind. The festivals await.
Monday, November 12, 2007
The death of the literary lion
Norman Mailer, who died Saturday morning, said it himself: In his younger days, "fiction was everything. The novel, the big novel, the driving force. We all wanted to be Hemingway ... I don't think the same thing can be said anymore."

His generation is almost gone now. Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, James Jones, Joseph Heller, William Styron, Kurt Vonnegut -- the young turks who came out of World War II to challenge Hemingway and Faulkner and Steinbeck -- are all dead.

Of that generation of American literary titans, those figures whose new works used to inspire intense scrutiny, only John Updike, Philip Roth and J.D. Salinger -- with Updike and Roth a half-generation younger, and the long-silent Salinger preferring the smaller stage of the short story -- remain. It's no slight against E.L. Doctorow, Joyce Carol Oates, Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, John Irving, Toni Morrison and the other great elder statesmen and -women of today to feel that the literary world is diminished nowadays -- there are so many books, yet so little attention.

And with the possible exception of Roth, with his trilogy of "American Pastoral," "I Married a Communist" and "The Human Stain," nobody's attempting the so-called Great American Novel. Few writers try anything so expansive anymore. (Among recent works, perhaps Michael Chabon's "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay" or Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" come closest.)

Indeed, there is a bittersweet symbolism in the timing of Mailer's death. He was a member of the print generation, when the pages of newspapers and magazines were the arena for big ideas and raging arguments, and he died on a Saturday morning, assuring himself the front page of the that great novel-sized bargain, the Sunday New York Times. (He would have loved that.)

But now we're part of the Internet age. On the Web, Mailer's death was a headline for a few hours, soon to be replaced with something else. It seems only appropriate that the man didn't own a computer.
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