Crowd Cover

Infinite Jest turns 20 in 2016, and to mark the anniversary, the book’s publisher Little, Brown is asking readers to give the book a facelift by submitting a new cover design.

IJ Cover

Submissions will be accepted starting tomorrow and running through September 15, with the winner to be chosen by the Wallace Literary Trust (meaning they probably won’t choose your design featuring  Jason Segel as Wallace). The winner will get a $1,000 American Express gift card and “the opportunity for your original cover to be used as the front cover of the 20th Anniversary edition” of the book.

Wallace himself was ambivalent about the book’s cover, according to his interviews with David Lipsky in Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself:

[Closes it, looks at cover. Clouds and sky.]

This was my major complaint about the cover of the book. …Is that it looks — on American Airlines flights? The cloud system, it’s almost identical.

[On safety booklet for 757]

Oh, that’s funny. What did you want instead?

Oh, I had a number of — there’s a great photo of Fritz Lang directing Metropolis. Do you know this one? Where he’s standing there, and there are about a thousand shaven-headed men in kind of rows and phalanxes, and he’s standing there with a megaphone? It wouldn’t have been…Michael [Pietsch, Wallace’s editor at Little Brown] said it was too busy and too like conceptual, it required too much brain work on the part of the audience….

Because you were making a metaphor on the cover?

No, I just thought it was cool —

There has been some truly great artwork created to honor Infinite Jest over the years, and it should be really cool to see what people come up with for this contest.

And if you’re interested in what’s inside the cover, check out our Infinite Jest Liveblog.

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Non-Fiction by Non-Men: Margo Jefferson

Margo Jefferson

In the fifth of her series of interviews with women who write nonfiction, E.B. Bartels speaks with Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson.

Margo Jefferson has been a staff writer and cultural critic for The New York Times and Newsweek, in addition to having essays and reviews in Harper’s, Vogue, and New York Magazine, among others. Along with a Pulitzer Prize, Jefferson has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Rockefeller Foundation/Theatre Communications Group grant. She is the author of On Michael Jackson (Pantheon, 2006) and Negroland: A Memoir (Pantheon, 2015). Jefferson teaches in the Writing Program at Columbia University.

EB: Why were you, as a writer and also a woman, drawn to writing nonfiction in the first place?

MJ: I really liked the idea of that intimacy with books but also the authority that being a literary critic meant. I later spread out to other forms. Once I really started to write, that variety is what I wanted. I liked the challenge; I liked the sense of being engaged with all the arts and with so many aspects of the culture. That was important to me.

When I look back on it, I really admired novelists—when I came along, the novel was the ideal form—who wrote criticism, and I really admired women who took charge of that voice.

EB: And all of the nonfiction you wrote at first was criticism? Continue reading

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The Flower Picker

The Flower Picker

When you grow up next to a national park, as I did, it is easy to feel like you own it, and in a very real sense you do. National parks are the property of the American people as a whole. However that doesn’t mean you can do as you like with them, as I have personally been reminded on a few occasions.

I am an inveterate flower picker. I can manage to find flowers to pick in even the most unlikely of places, not unlike the way our family’s daffy but determined golden retriever Ropher could find water to jump into pretty much anywhere that we let him out of the car. I have picked flowers on five continents, in wild places and in cities; legally, unknowingly illegally, and on occasion with a willful disregard for the law (I’m looking at you, flowering Brooklyn magnolia trees with low-hanging branches: sorry). When I’m in New York I live in one of Brooklyn’s more industrial neighborhoods, but still I have picked flowers there, too. I have picked flowering weeds poking out through the chain-link fences of vacant lots, and on one very late and slightly tipsy spring night, I plucked a sprig of lilac from a sidewalk garden near the Gowanus Canal. Again, my sincere apologies. When I was younger and living in bucolic Northern California, it was a rare hike that I went on that did not result in some wild bouquet—yellow acacia or plum blossoms in February, daffodils and narcissus in March, forget-me-nots and roses and foxgloves and honeysuckle and nearly everything else from April through June. There was flowering coyote bush in July, Pink Lady lilies in August, colorful leaves in the fall, and evergreen and red berry branches in winter. I didn’t know it at the time, but even in the county-protected open spaces near my childhood home, this is actually illegal. In Point Reyes National Seashore just a short drive away, it definitely is, too.

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HITTING SHELVES #22: The Beautiful Bureaucrat

The Beautiful Bureaucrat

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips comes out today!

It’s the story of Josephine, a young woman who moves to a massive, unnamed city and finds work as a file clerk, essentially, for a bizarre corporation. The corporation lies to her, praises her, and grooms her to become a perfect cog in the system, a Beautiful Bureaucrat. But Josephine can’t ignore the discrepancies in her files, and she can’t ignore the trouble at home: her husband keeps disappearing for no apparent reason.

With Kafka’s deep eeriness and Terry Gilliam’s stunning weirdness, Helen Phillips tells a wholly original story that will make you question your place in “the system” and your relationships with the people you love most.

We asked the author one question.

How are you celebrating the publication of The Beautiful Bureaucrat? Continue reading

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Did You Hear? Learn to Fly

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

This video has been winning the internet all week, and I’m more than happy to jump on this particular feel-good bandwagon.

1000 Italian musicians in a giant field playing their hearts out, transforming a solid tune into an anthem of… something, I’m not sure what. The whole thing is pretty self-serving, but it hardly matters because it looks like SO MUCH FUN!

Collect your 15 minutes of fame, Cesena, Italy. You earned it! And here is Dave Grohl’s response.

– Brook Reeder

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Stunning Sentences

Many aspects of writing my novel The Translator were hard, but one of the most difficult was depicting the ancient Japanese theater art of Noh. Most Western readers have never watched a Noh play, with the actors hidden behind wooden masks and moving in a refined, stylized way, speaking a stilted, almost unintelligible language.

I threw myself into that scene, trying to write the sensation of sitting through hours of Noh—some productions last all day. Because it’s a pivotal moment for my main character, Hanne, she had to watch the same plays twice. Not only did I grapple with depicting this foreign art form, but I also had to convey the experience differently, the second time round.

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Wittgenstein’s Mistress

Wittgenstein's Mistress

It’s frustrating! Rewarding! Brilliant! Difficult!

If you’re intimidated by the prospect of reading David Markson’s famous novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress, maybe you should bring a friend along.

That’s what Kelsey Osgood did.

Kelsey is a contributor to The New Yorker, The New Republic, Salon, and Vice, but even she didn’t feel up to the task of reading Wittgenstein’s Mistress alone. So she read it with Nemira Gasiunas, a Philosophy PhD candidate at Columbia University, whose qualifications for understanding a novel based on the ideas of Ludwig Wittgenstein include “a very sage-sounding British accent.”

Osgood / Gasiunas

Osgood / Gasiunas

Now you can bring Kelsey and Nemira along as you read Wittgenstein’s Mistress. Divided into five parts, their smart, funny, occasionally exasperated commentary will help you tackle one of the most enduring novels of our time.

Just grab the book and read along.

Eighty Dollars and No Sense (Pages 1-50)

Alone Again, Naturally (Pages 50-100)

Maybe He’s Just Fucking With Us (Pages 100-150)

The End is Nigh (Pages 150-200)

The Ends (Pages 200-240)

Good luck!

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Did You Hear? Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

Paul Simon is remarkable in many ways, but the quality of his arrangements and the quality of his musicianship are the things I notice most. Unique and memorable, full without being over-stuffed, using a mix of influences — his style is immediately identifiable.

We all know the original recording, so I’ll share this bass and vocal isolation with you instead. Obviously the bass playing by Bakithi Kumalois top-notch, but I particularly love how this version re-frames the song as something gentler, prettier.

And if you need to amp it up, there’s always the amazing Chevy Chase music video for “You Can Call me Al…”

– Brook Reeder

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