The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- The U.S. Postal Service has made a deal with Amazon to deliver packages on Sundays. For now, delivery will be limited to Los Angeles and New York, but the service is expected to expand into cities such as Dallas, Houston, New Orleans and Phoenix next year. Neither Amazon nor the USPS has released details of the deal, which USA Today notes, is "a welcome new source of revenue for the financially struggling U.S. Postal Service, which has been trying tap into the growth of online shopping." The New York Times reports: "For the Postal Service, which lost nearly $16 billion last year, first-class mail delivery, particularly on Saturdays, is often a money loser, whereas package delivery is profitable." The USPS has previously floated a number of ideas – such as eliminating Saturday mail delivery — past Congress to try to cut costs, but most have been returned to sender.
- Malala Yousafzai's book I Am Malala has been banned in Pakistan's private schools "because it carries the content which is against our country's ideology and Islamic values," the chairman of All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, Kashif Mirza, told the AFP. The group represents 40,000 private schools across the country. Yousafzai drew international attention to Pakistan's educational system after the Taliban shot her in the head last year for advocating education rights for women. The AP writes that "conspiracy theories have flourished in Pakistan that her shooting was staged to create an icon for the west to embrace," and Mirza said, "Through this book, she became a tool in the hands of the Western powers." Parts of the book deemed objectionable include a mild defense of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses: Yousafzai cites her father, who thinks the book is "offensive to Islam but believes strongly in the freedom of speech."
- Parul Sehgal on the re-issue of Jonathan Franzen's first novel: "Some books ought to be allowed to molder in peace." (Franzen doesn't like it either — he told The Paris Review that it was written by "a 25-year-old with a very compromised sense of masculinity.") On a related note, Franzen rendered himself approximately 100 million times more likeable by citing Harriet the Spy as a literary influence in this EW interview.
- After a fierce 10-publisher bidding war, Knopf bought Garth Risk Hallberg's debut novel, City on Fire, for almost $2 million. A relatively little-known author, Hallberg has published short fiction in small literary magazines and a novella, A Field Guide to the North American Family.
The Best Books Coming Out This Week:
- White Girls, by Hilton Als. The titular white girls in Als' gorgeous, maddening collection of essays are often not white girls at all — they include Malcolm X, Michael Jackson, Flannery O'Connor, Truman Capote, and the rapper Eminem. He writes, "I see how we are all the same, that none of us are white women or black men; rather, we're a series of mouths, and that every mouth needs filling: with something wet or dry, like love, or unfamiliar and savory, like love." For Als, this is true but also not true. We are all the same except when we are not the same, and Als does an expert job at teasing out the difference.
- A Prayer Journal, by Flannery O'Connor. The author is one of Als' most fully-realized "white girls," a writer and a pious Catholic who, as he puts it, "describes, never preaches." This week, a prayer journal O'Connor kept in her early twenties will be published for the first time. Unsolemn, sometimes miserable, occasionally funny, and always beautiful, it illustrates what Als calls "the uneasy and unavoidable union between black and white, the sacred and profane, the shit and the stars." O'Connor writes, "I would like to write a beautiful prayer but I have nothing to do it from. There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise; but I cannot do it. Yet at some insipid moment when I may possibly be thinking of floor wax or pigeon eggs, the opening of a beautiful prayer may come up from my subconscious and lead me to write something exalted." It's impossible not to find the whole thing exalted, from her fear of hell to her genuine spiritual agony after overindulging in "Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought."
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