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Book News: FBI Suspected William T. Vollmann Was The Unabomber

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

  • The FBI suspected William T. Vollmann of being first the Unabomber and then the anthrax mailer, the award-winning writer revealed in a grimly funny Harper's article [subscription required]. Vollmann's heavily redacted FBI file, which he obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that he became "Unabomber Suspect Number S-2047" based on a tip from an anonymous citizen, whom Vollmann dubs "Ratfink." "UNABOMBER, not unlike VOLLMANN has pride of authorship and insists his book be published without editing," part of the file states. Other sections link his appearance to composite sketches of the bomber and suggest that "anti-growth and anti-progress themes persist throughout each VOLLMANN work." A source told the FBI that Vollmann "reportedly owns many guns and a flame-thrower." ("I would love to own a flamethrower," he notes cheerfully.) After the real Unabomber was caught, Vollmann was listed among the suspects in the 2001 anthrax attacks. Though Vollmann writes that he was initially flattered to be labeled "ARMED AND DANGEROUS," he became alarmed over the privacy violations the file suggests. He writes: "I was accused, secretly. I was spied on ... I have no redress. To be sure, I am not a victim; my worries are not for me, but for the American Way of Life." Vollmann spoke to Morning Edition's David Greene in an interview Thursday morning and said he minded the FBI's secrecy almost as much as the invasion of his privacy: "If we're not allowed to know what they're doing with this information, I can't help but think that we are headed for really serious trouble."
  • In an interview in Poets & Writers, Knopf senior editor Jordan Pavlin explains what she looks for in a book: "It's an immediacy. It's a sense that something is alive, that whatever mask I wear in my daily life is somehow stripped away by the experience of encountering it. It's a cliché now, but the book that's the 'axe to break the sea frozen inside us'—that's the thing I am looking for. I'm interested in being disarmed."
  • Junot Diaz spoke to The Daily Beast about his writing habits: "I wrote my first book listening to the soundtrack to the movie Conan the Barbarian on a loop. That's how I ride."
  • Quebec is considering setting the prices of new books for nine months to give independent booksellers a chance against Amazon and bigger stores that can offer steep discounts, The Montreal Gazette reports. Several countries including France and Germany have similar protections in place.
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