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Book News: Albert Murray, Opponent Of Black Separatism, Dies At 97

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

  • The black jazz critic, essayist and novelist Albert Murray died on Sunday in Harlem at age 97. As NPR's Joel Rose noted Monday, "Duke Ellington once described him as the 'unsquarest person I know.' " A vocal opponent of black separatism, he argued in his seminal 1970 book The Omni-Americans that in the United States, black and white were permanently intertwined, and that "American culture, even in its most rigidly segregated precincts ... is incontestably mulatto." At a time when many leading black intellectuals viewed black culture as separate and distinct from white culture, his views made him almost conservative. Literary critic Henry Louis Gates wrote in the 1996 New Yorker profile "King of Cats" that "you learn a great many things when you sit with him in his apartment, but, summed up, they amount to a larger vision: this is Albert Murray's century; we just live in it."
  • Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble have "resolved their outstanding business issues" after a months-long dispute over pricing, The New York Times reports. For eight months, the bookstore chain ordered only small numbers of Simon & Schuster titles in an effort to force the publisher to comply with its price demands. Neither side would comment on the terms of the truce.
  • Gideon Lewis-Kraus considers the legendary critic Janet Malcolm for The Times Literary Supplement: "Behind the placid, measured, artful prose is a great destabilizing force."
  • Amazon.com crashed for around half an hour (though estimates vary) on Monday afternoon. Taylor Soper at Geekwire guesses the company lost nearly $5 million. It's not clear what caused the outage, but many independent booksellers and publishers were gleeful. The Brooklyn-based publisher Melville House tweeted: "What should you do while Amazon is down? Everything you were doing, just more ethically."
  • Margaret Atwood spoke to The Telegraph's wonderfully named Hermione Hoby about writing and optimism: "Any writer is an optimist. Why? Number one: They think they'll finish their book. Number two: They think somebody will publish it. Number three: They think somebody will read it. That's a lot of optimism."
  • Lorin Stein, editor of The Paris Review, celebrates John O'Hara's "tackiness" in an introduction to a new edition of O'Hara's BUtterfield 8 (excerpted in The New Yorker): "O'Hara's tackiness is his great advantage over more respectable writers of his time. ... In Hemingway's fiction everyone who matters — author, protagonist, reader — is politely assumed to be a member, or at least a tributary, of the club. For O'Hara, privilege is rooted in bigotry, and he's tacky enough to say so."
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