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Book News: Kim Jong Un Reportedly Gave 'Mein Kampf' As Gifts

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Kim Jong Un gave top officials in North Korea copies of Adolf Hitler's autobiography, Mein Kampf, as gifts on his birthday last January, according to a report in New Focus International, a newspaper written largely by North Korean defectors. It seems the book was intended to promote a study of Hitler's economic reforms, and was not necessarily meant as an endorsement of Nazism. New Focus International, which was founded by a former North Korean poet laureate, cites "a DPRK official in China," who told the paper that Kim admired the way Hitler reformed Germany's economy and military after the ravages of the first World War. If the reports are true, North Korea isn't the only place Mein Kampf has found an unlikely readership — Businessweek said last year that the book had become a bestseller in India.
  • VICE has apologized for its "Last Words" fashion spread depicting the suicides of female authors such as Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. The magazine removed the post from its website, and issued a statement from the editors: "The fashion spreads in VICE magazine are always unconventional and approached with an art editorial point-of-view rather than a typical fashion photo-editorial one. Our main goal is to create artful images, with the fashion message following, rather than leading. 'Last Words' was created in this tradition and focused on the demise of a set of writers whose lives we very much wish weren't cut tragically short, especially at their own hands. We will no longer display 'Last Words' on our website and apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended."
  • For The New Yorker, Thomas Beller imagines which historical writers would have been good on Twitter: "Gertrude Stein, with her gnomish, arty, aphoristic tendencies, would seem to be ideal. 'There is no there there' may be one of the great proto-tweets."
  • Author, "New Journalism" icon and wearer of white suits Tom Wolfe is said to be working on a book called The Kingdom of Speech. According to Publisher's Marketplace, the book is "a nonfiction account of scholarship proposing that humans are divided from animals by their power of speech." Wolfe has hinted at the idea before, notably in a 2006 lecture called "The Human Beast." He said, "Speech gave the beast its first ability to ask questions, and undoubtedly one of the first expressed his sudden but insatiable anxiety as to how he got here and what this agonizing struggle called life is all about. To this day, the beast needs, can't live without, some explanation as the basis of whatever status he may think he possesses. For that reason, extraordinary individuals have been able to change history with their words alone, without the assistance of followers, money, or politicians."
  • For The New Republic, Molly Fischer considers the folly of marathon reading: "Especially at 3:50 a.m., a marathon reading can look a lot like a pious exercise [in] high-culture martyrdom — behold, Great Books instead of text messages! But ... the spirit of the marathon reading is more elusive."
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