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Congratulations to MacKenzie Scott, the least bad billionaire.


May 24, 2022, 12:53pm

All billionaires are bad, but MacKenzie Scott—novelist, Toni Morrison protégée, and ex-wife of Jeff Bezos—is at least doing a better job than most at growing her vast fortune at a slightly less alarming rate than most of the other billionaires in the world.

Scott, who recently donated $436 million to Habitat for Humanity International and 84 affiliates, has donated 22% of her net worth to charity, according to Axios, putting her far above other “philanthropic” billionaires, including Charles Koch (3.3%), Mark Zuckerberg (2.7%), and, of course, Bezos himself (1.1%). So, congratulations to MacKenzie Scott, the least bad billionaire!

Of course, because of the unfathomable vastness of her remaining fortune—$54 billion—her wealth continues to grow “faster than she can give it away.” Actually, no. I think if she set her mind to it, she could probably give it away faster. Maybe buy every unhoused person in the country a house? Or subsidize all insulin for the uninsured indefinitely? Or, you know, I can’t imagine it’s all that time-consuming to just buy Joe Manchin. Maybe just find out how much that coal company is paying him and pay him $100 more than that?

Just spitballing!

French author Alice Zeniter has won the eye-popping €100,000 Dublin Literary Award.

Dan Sheehan

May 24, 2022, 12:21pm

The Art of Losing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by French novelist Alice Zeniter has won the prestigious Dublin Literary Award, a prize which comes with a handsome glass trophy and the world’s largest purse for a single novel published in English—a whopping €100,000.

Nominations for the Dublin Literary Award are submitted by public libraries worldwide, with over 400 library systems in 177 countries invited to submit their chosen novel. Previous winners of the prize include The Known World by Edward P. Jones, The Master by Colm Tóibín, Milkman by Anna Burns, and My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive received last year’s award.

Nominated by Bibliothèque publique d’information, in the Pompidou Centre, Paris, The Art of Losing—a multi-generational story featuring France’s Algerian diaspora—was selected from a shortlist of six novels by writers from Ireland, Nigeria, New Zealand, France and Canada. The longlist of 79 titles was nominated by 94 libraries from 40 countries across Africa, Europe, Asia, the US, Canada, South America, Australia and New Zealand.

Zeniter receives €75,000 and her translator Frank Wynne, who won the award back in 2002 as translator of Atomised by Michel Houellebecq, receives €25,000.

“It’s amazing to see how the book has its own life” in another language, Zeniter said to The Irish Times yesterday. “Because when I finished it and gave it to my publishers, they told me it would probably not be translated and if it was it would not sell abroad, because it was such a French topic. I was talking about the ruins of our colonial empire and who would be interested in that abroad?”

Congratulations to Zeniter, Wynne, and all the finalists!

Now Margaret Atwood has a flamethrower. Ho-Ho-Ho.

Dan Sheehan

May 24, 2022, 11:28am

If you enjoyed watching an 80-year-old Margaret Atwood buzzing around New Zealand on a scooter, you’re gonna love watching an 82-year-old Margaret Atwood wielding the coolest (and most supervillain-y) of handheld weapons: the humble American flamethrower.

Yes, last night, during PEN America’s glitzy annual gala in New York (which also featured Ruth Negga presenting an award to Zadie Smith and Michael Douglas presenting an award to Vladyslav Yesypenko), Penguin Random House announced that a one-off, unburnable edition of The Handmaid’s Tale would be auctioned through Sotheby’s New York to benefit PEN’s work defending freedom of expression around the world.

Here, in all its glory, is the full video of Maggie doing her damndest to incinerate a copy of her iconic 1985 novel:

I’ve heard of “manuscripts don’t burn,” but this is ridiculous! (Eh?…eh?)

The fireproof edition is a joint project between PEN, Atwood, PRH and two companies based in Toronto, where Atwood is a longtime resident: the Rethink creative agency and The Gas Company Inc., a graphic arts and bookbinding specialty studio.

Instead of paper, the 384-page book, which took more than two months to complete and can be read like a regular novel, was created used Cinefoil, a specially treated aluminum product, and sewn together by hand using nickel copper wire.

While The Handmaid’s Tale has (as far as we know) never been the victim of an organized book burning, it has been subjected to numerous bans and attempted bans down through the decades. Just last year it was pulled from the shelves by schools in both Texas and Kansas.

With book banning (and probably burning) on the rise all over America, there’s never been a better time to donate to organizations that protect literature and freedom of speech. And if you can nab yourself a fireproof copy of one of the greatest dystopian novels of all time while you’re at it, all the better.

For shame: Bram Stoker was a serial defiler of library books.

Jonny Diamond

May 24, 2022, 10:22am

I’m sorry, you just shouldn’t write in library books. Do whatever you want with your own books—highlighter, pen, pencil, the blood of the innocent—but being a member of a library is a contract with your fellow readers, and you should leave your thoughts and/or doodles out of other people’s books. Apparently, though, no one ever informed Bram Stoker of proper library etiquette.

According to this in-depth Daily Beast look at the history of the London Library—a relatively low-profile private subscription-based lending library founded in 1841 by Thomas Carlyle—the author of Dracula had no problem marking up whatever book he happened to be reading. It was only in 2008, upon the publication of his private notes, that librarians realized some 25 books (out of the collection’s million) had Stoker’s scribbles in them.

Stoker the Defiler is but one of the many legendary members to have browsed the London Library’s 17 miles of bookshelves:

The names [the library] can account for are impressive. Charles Darwin, an early member, wrote On the Origin of Species with an assist from the library. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and TS Eliot (who has a room named after him) were all early adopters. Mark Twain briefly joined while living in London. After his death, a quick check of the records proved that, yup—Philip Roth was a member. Stanley Kubrick, Alec Guinness, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, we stroll by a murderers’ row of creative minds.

The London Library currently has 7,500 members, and if you want to join, an annual subscription costs £262.50 if you’re under 29, and £525 for the rest of us.

Just promise you won’t write in the books.

15 new books to help you get through the week.

Katie Yee

May 24, 2022, 4:44am

Life’s got you down? At least there are always books! This week brings new gems from Elif Batuman, Nell Zink, Akwaeke Emezi, Elizabeth Hardwick, and more.


Elif Batuman, Either/Or

Elif Batuman, Either/Or
(Penguin Press)

“Batuman has a gift for making the universe seem, somehow, like the benevolent and witty literary seminar you wish it were. This novel wins you over in a million micro-observations.”
–The New York Times


Nell Zink, Avalon

“Even more impactful than the intellectual ballistics is the tortured romance story. The style is all Zink’s own, and she’s as brilliant as ever here.”
–Publishers Weekly

Akwaeke Emezi, You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty

Akwaeke Emezi, You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty

“An unabashed ode to living with, and despite, pain and mortality … Emezi’s latest novel is a departure in genre and prose style from their previous work, and it could appeal especially to people who, living through an isolating pandemic that has accelerated loss, hunger for more joie de vivre.”
–The New York Times Book Review

Marie Myung-Ok Lee_The Evening Hero

Marie Myung-Ok Lee, The Evening Hero
(Simon & Schuster)

“This precise, watchful novel reveals the loneliness of the immigrant experience, even when cloaked in outward success … This is a novel about healers and healing, about unflashy, quiet heroism, all wrapped in Yungman’s mordant humor.”
–The New York Times Book Review

Kitty and Al Tait_Breadsong

Al Tait and Kitty Tait, Breadsong: How Baking Changed Our Lives

“Whether dabbing CBD caramel over a Happy Bread doughnut loaf, or slathering brownies with miso fudge, Kitty’s passionate creativity is as irresistible as her creations. Bakers will have no trouble devouring every bit.”
–Publishers Weekly

Amy Feltman, All the Things We Don’t Talk About
(Grand Central Publishing)

“…the complex relationship between Morgan and Julian places this novel solidly in the category of worthwhile reads. A multidimensional family drama.”

Cate Marvin_Event Horizon

Cate Marvin, Event Horizon
(Copper Canyon Press)

“Sometimes Cate Marvin seems to be speaking directly to me: a poet who loves the language she loves. Her poems are made of sentient sentences.”
–Terrance Hayes

on autumn lake

Douglas Crase, On Autumn Lake: The Collected Essays
(Nightboat Books)

“Crase knew many of the individuals he writes about and was immersed in the communities in which they flourished … Gracefully wrought essays imbued with a rare intimacy.”

Chris Pavone_Two Nights in Lisbon

Chris Pavone, Two Nights in Lisbon

“Two nights in Lisbon sound like a fun vacation as long as someone isn’t trying to uncover a horrible secret from your past. This high-stakes drama grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.”

Lynne Cox, Tales of Al: The Rescue Water Dog

“She is a concise yet dramatic writer, with immersive descriptions of her childhood, her arduous swim training, the sensory experience of swimming, accents, the exploding flavors of Italian cuisine, and doggy behaviors … A delight from start to finish.”
–Library Journal

eden collinsworth_what the ermine saw

Eden Collinsworth, What the Ermine Saw

“Art lovers and history buffs will enjoy this fast-paced, entertaining romp from the Renaissance to the present day, focusing on one painting by one of the world’s most famous, intriguing, and mysterious artists.”
–Library Journal

the letters of thom gunn

Thom Gunn, The Letters of Thom Gunn

“Rowdy, funny, filthy, intensely literate letters … These letters have been anticipated, by many, because [Gunn] rarely spilled his guts on the page. There’s been no biography. These letters are what we have, and they don’t disappoint … This book, like Gunn’s life, puts an unusual mix of pleasures on display.”
–The New York Times

David Yoon_City of Orange

David Yoon, City of Orange
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

“Fans of The Martian will enjoy this new take on the struggle to survive in an unfamiliar land.”
–Publishers Weekly

Halik Kochanski_resistance

Halik Kochanski, Resistance: The Underground War Against Hitler, 1939-1945

“A magisterial doorstop of a history that is well worth the effort … A definitive history and a great read.”

Elizabeth Hardwick_NYRB

Elizabeth Hardwick, The Uncollected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick

“[Hardwick’s] stylish, gutting one-liners are present … I was struck by the prescience of the collection’s strongest inclusions.”