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March 5, 2013

Sorry, the short story boom is bogus

Clockwise from top left, Junot Díaz, Amber Dermont, Nathan Englander, George Saunders

Clockwise from top left, Junot Díaz, Amber Dermont, Nathan Englander, George Saunders

The New York Times touts the Internet’s role in reviving interest in short fiction. Too bad it’s not true

By Laura Miller

The short story, like the western, is periodically said to be on the brink of a comeback. The most recent example of this boosterism: an article by the New York Times’ new(ish) publishing reporter, Leslie Kaufman, titled “Good Fit for Today’s Little Screens: Short Stories,” in which “a proliferation of digital options” is said to offer short fiction “not only new creative opportunities but exposure and revenue as well.”

This would be good news — if there were any reason at all to think it was true. Kaufman’s only evidence for this imaginary renaissance is the success of George Saunders’ story collection, “The Tenth of December,” published earlier this year and currently hovering in the middle ranks of several prominent best-seller lists. Saunders’ longtime fans (I count myself among them) have reason to celebrate this, but it really has nothing to do with “digital options.” Saunders has built a devoted following over the past 17 years, hadn’t published a book in a good while and — most important of all — was heralded in the headline of a long, radiant profile in the New York Times Magazine as producing “the best book you’ll read this year.” All of that could have happened 10, 20 or 30 years ago and produced the same result.

Kaufman goes on to marvel at the “unusually rich crop of short-story collections” published (or about to be published) this year. Some, “tellingly,” are even written by “best-selling novelists”! This is all the more astonishing to her since “publishers and authors tend to be wary of short-story collections because of the risk of being critically overlooked and, worse, lower sales.”

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February 12, 2013

The Author Himself Was a Cat in the Hat

This hat from Theodor Geisel's collection resembles the one worn by the Cat in the Hat.

This hat from Theodor Geisel’s collection resembles the one worn by the Cat in the Hat.


The Cat wore a hat. Everyone knows that.

But so did Sam-I am, the mooing Mr. Brown and the fat fish from “One Fish, Two Fish” — a tiny yellow hat.

The Grinch disguised himself in a crinkled Santa hat.

All over Dr. Seuss’s beloved children’s books, his characters sport distinctive, colorful headwear — unless they are the kinds of creatures that have it sprouting naturally from their heads in tufted, multitiered and majestically flowing formations.

So it’s no surprise that the real Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel, was a hat lover himself. He collected hundreds of them, plumed, beribboned and spiked, and kept them in a closet hidden behind a bookcase in his home in the La Jolla section of San Diego. He incorporated them into his personal paintings, his advertising work and his books. He even insisted that guests to his home don the most elaborate ones he could find.

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December 13, 2012

At Random House, Employees Will Enjoy 5,000 Shades of Green


Random House had its corporate Christmas party on Wednesday night in New York, and word is that Santa likes bondage. A lot.

Markus Dohle, the chief executive of Random House, promised employees — from top editors to warehouse workers — a $5,000 bonus to celebrate a profitable year. The cheering went on for minutes, according to people in attendance.

Call it 5,000 shades of green.

This year, Random House had the good fortune to publish E. L. James’s “Fifty Shades of Grey,” about an inexperienced college student who falls in love with an older man with a taste for trying her up and whipping her, among other delights. The book has topped the New York Times paperback best-seller list for 37 weeks and counting. The sequels “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed” have been in the top five for a similar amount of time.

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December 4, 2012

David Oliver Relin, Adventurous Journalist, Dies at 49

David Oliver Relin was a co-author of “Three Cups of Tea.”

David Oliver Relin was a co-author of “Three Cups of Tea.”


David Oliver Relin, a journalist and adventurer who achieved acclaim as co-author of the best seller “Three Cups of Tea” (2006) and then suffered emotionally and financially as basic facts in the book were called into question, died Nov. 15 in Multnomah County, Ore. He was 49.

His family said Mr. Relin “suffered from depression” and took his own life. The family, speaking through Mr. Relin’s agent, Jin Auh, was unwilling to give further details, but said a police statement would be released this week.

In the 1990s, Mr. Relin established himself as a journalist with an interest in telling “humanitarian” stories about people in need in articles about child soldiers and about his travels in Vietnam.

“He felt his causes passionately,” said Lee Kravitz, the former editor of Parade who hired Mr. Relin at various magazines over the years. “He especially cared about young people. I always assigned him to stories that would inspire people to take action to improve their lives.”

So it made sense when Viking books tapped him to write a book about Greg Mortenson, a mountain climber who had an inspiring story about building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Elizabeth Kaplan, the agent for the book, acknowledged that the relationship between the two men was difficult from the start. Mr. Mortenson, who was traveling to remote areas, could be hard to track down, and Mr. Relin spoke publicly about how Mr. Mortenson should not have been named a co-author.

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