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Book news: Salman Rushdie, John Steinbeck, fact, fiction, more

February 29, 2012 | 11:50 am


The soundtrack-enhanced version of Salman Rushdie's story "In the South" is available for 99 cents today. On Tuesday, the e-book goes up to $1.99. The text-only version of the story, published in 2009, is available on the New Yorker's website for free. But to get the bells and whistles -- OK, I don't know whether it has bells or whistles specifically, but for music and sound effects, download Booktrack's Bookshelf app and purchase your 99-cent version there.

"A book is like a man -- clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly." That's John Steinbeck in a letter to his editor on completing "East of Eden," not yet an American classic, just a manuscript that got kicked around. How so? Look at Steinbeck's rendering of his dialogue with his editor, proofreaders and the sales department at Letters of Note.

It's not unlike the written conversation between writer John D'Agata and fact-checker Jim Fingal in their co-written book about Fingal trying to fact-check D'Agata, "The Lifespan of a Fact." In the book, D'Agata stakes the claim that nonfiction essays are art, while Fingal argues that nonfiction needs to get its facts straight. But -- here we go -- the book does not actually reflect their exchange.

"I must clarify that you should consider the 'Jim' and 'John' of the essay to be characters enacting a parallel process / discussion from the one John and I actually had during the factchecking process," Fingal told The Kenyon Review when it talked to the two writers.

"I think of the form of the exchange between Jim and me as an exaggerated farce," D'Agata said. "Even though I occasionally would sling some heartache Jim’s way during the fact-checking process, I was never as ... as the writer’s persona is in the book.  But it’s that writer’s snarkiness — and the fact-checker’s eventual willingness to bite back — that makes the book kind of funny, I think.  So we were trying to find a way to make a serious but rather dry issue (veracity) feel relevant and entertaining (... jokes)." 

D'Agata, who now teaches nonfiction at the University of Iowa, was an unemployed former teacher when he met Graywolf publisher Fiona MCrea at her booth at AWP, he tells the Days of Yore, launching his career as a published writer. AWP, the annual Assn. of Writing Programs conference, opens its doors today in Chicago. For the next couple of days, creative writing students and professors will crowd panels, readings and the local bars. Follow them on Twitter with the official hashtag #AWP12.

Proposals for hashtags for conversations of creative writers not at AWP include #lifeiselsewhere, #NAWP and #lucky or #happy.

On Monday, the writer Emily Rapp wrote a heartbreaking open letter to GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Slate about choice and suffering. "I love my son more than any person in the world and his life is of utmost value to me. I don't regret a single minute of this parenting journey," Rapp writes unquivocally. But her son, Ronan, has Tay-Sachs disease. "I'm so grateful that Ronan is my child. I also wish he'd never been born; no person should suffer in this way — daily seizures, blindness, lack of movement, inability to swallow, a devastated brain — with no hope for a cure. Both of these statements are categorically true; neither one is mutually exclusive."

Slate is in the running for three Digital Ellies, the National Magazine Awards for digital media. Announced Tuesday, the finalists' list includes the usual suspects (National Geographic, Wired) and newcomer the Atavist, which is up for reporting and multimedia. The awards will be presented at a luncheon in New York City on March 20. Congratulations to our literary colleagues at the Daily Beast's Book Beast, the only book-focused finalist.

At the Book Beast today, Lila Azam Zanganeh writes about dealing with Dmitri Nabokov, novelist Vladimir Nabokov's son. Dmitri died Feb. 22 in Switzerland.

Dmitri Nabokov was one of the more difficult literary executors, Laura Miller writes at Salon, but he was by no means the worst. James Joyce's heir once forced the cancellation of Dublin celebrations of Bloomsday, so named for his character in "Ulysses." She's got the sad tale and more.


Joan Didion discusses 'Blue Nights'

21 dos and don'ts for an AWP newbie

Congrats to Digital Ellie finalist the Book Beast

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Salman Rushdie in 2005. Credit: Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times