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what to read :: the millions, smart commentary on literary matters

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in a time when demand, both real and perceived, for short, flashy articles has a powerful effect on editors, the millions eschews conventional wisdom and delivers challenging and contemplative essays on literature. their reviews of books past and present are infused with personal anecdotes stemming from contributors’ teaching experiences, formal study, and sheer love for the written word and content.

you get a feeling that the millions trusts the intelligence of their readers as well as their passion for the world of letters. editor, c. max magee, started the site in 2003 when he was a bookseller at an indie shop in los angeles. he no longer works there but has since grown the website into a well-respected go-to resource for lay readers and industry folks alike.

in march of this year soft skull press published a collection of essays edited by magee along with jeff martin, an author, editor, and contributor to the millions, under the portentous title the late american novel: writers on the future of the book.

riffing on “the future of the book” are, as one would expect from a subversive outlet such as the millions, some interesting characters in the world of writing today. possibly one of the most recognizable is jonathan lethem of chronic city fame. also in the collection is reif larsen who adds his pictorial  talents to his thoughts on form and content in the age of electronic reading. other writers include up-and-comer deb olin unferth whose memoir on her time spent fighting for the revolution in latin america has garnered much-deserved praise from major newspapers to popular book blogs.

one of my favorite pieces though, was from someone i hadn’t heard of before picking this one up off the shelf: joshua gaylord, a new york-based author and english teacher. here’s an excerpt from his essay enduring literature, a clever title.

I read James Joyce’s Ulysses for the first time as a freshman in college at UCLA. I remember the experience of the book—not just the content, but the physical book itself. It was the Hans Walter Gabler edition, published just four years before, and the cover featured simply the title of the book and the author’s name highlighted by blocks of primary color—as though the typography itself were the key: as though the printed words were the treasure. It was a big book, solid and cumbersome, the gravity of the text itself paralleled by the way it felt in my backpack—a leaden weight made heavier by the two other books I carried along with it to assist my reading: Don Gifford’s annotations on Ulysseys (as big as Ulysseys itself) and Stuart Gilbert’s blissfully mass-market-sized discourse on Ulysseys.

That’s right: I was reading three books in order to read one book. I carried those books around for months. My back hurt, my shoulders ached. I had to requisition one of the larger tables in the campus cafeteria to spread out all three books so I could refer back and forth among them—all while eating lunch with my non-page-turning hand. I wasn’t just a reader of Joyce, I was an arsenal of Joyce, and you could spot me in all my erudite pretension, cheeseburger in hand, a mile away. I moved slowly, and literature was something not just of the mind but also of the muscles. 

The “future of books” naturally calls to mind images of the Kindle or some other e-book reader: volumes of literature toted around in the form of thin plastic tablets. The evolution and popularity of such technology seem contingent upon one notion: that literature should be an easier experience.

if you take reading seriously and crave a reliable source for the latest releases, as well as a few classics you might have missed, look no further than the millions

the late american novel on amazon
joshua gaylord’s website
c. max magee on the marketplace of ideas


Written by Gabrielle

April 4, 2011 at 11:49 am

Posted in books

Tagged with ,

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