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Exclusive: See the cover for Benjamín Labatut’s new novel, The MANIAC.

Literary Hub

March 21, 2023, 11:00am

Literary Hub is pleased to reveal the cover for Benjamín Labatut’s new novel, The MANIAC, which will be published by Penguin Press this fall. Here’s how the publisher describes the book:

From one of contemporary literature’s most exciting new voices, a haunting story centered on the Hungarian polymath John von Neumann, tracing the impact of his singular legacy on the dreams and nightmares of the twentieth century and the nascent age of AI

Benjamín Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World electrified a global readership. A Booker Prize and National Book Award finalist, and one of the New York Times’ Ten Best Books of the Year, it explored the life and thought of a clutch of mathematicians and physicists who took science to strange and sometimes dangerous new realms. In The MANIAC, Labatut has created a tour de force on an even grander scale.

A prodigy whose gifts terrified the people around him, John von Neumann transformed every field he touched, inventing game theory and the first programable computer, and pioneering AI, digital life, and cellular automata. Through a chorus of family members, friends, colleagues, and rivals, Labatut shows us the evolution of a mind unmatched and of a body of work that has unmoored the world in its wake.

The MANIAC places von Neumann at the center of a literary triptych that begins with Paul Ehrenfest, an Austrian physicist and friend of Einstein, who fell into despair when he saw science and technology become tyrannical forces; it ends a hundred years later, in the showdown between the South Korean Go Master Lee Sedol and the AI program AlphaGo, an encounter embodying the central question of von Neumann’s most ambitious unfinished project: the creation of a self-reproducing machine, an intelligence able to evolve beyond human understanding or control.

And here’s the cover, which was designed by Darren Haggar:

benjamin labatut the maniac

“The image on this cover was created by film director Bennett Miller, using OpenAI’s DALL-E 2 software,” the publisher told Lit Hub. “He arrived at the final product by making extensive edits on variations of an image generated using the following prompt: a vintage photograph of huge plumes of smoke coming from an enormous UFO crashed in the desert.”

The MANIAC will be published on October 3, 2023 by Penguin Press. You can preorder it here.

Coming to tellyboxes: An adaptation of Douglas Stuart’s Young Mungo

Janet Manley

March 21, 2023, 10:55am

Crivvens! Good news has come in on the morning winds for fans of Scottish-American author Douglas Stuart. He has already teamed up with studio A24 on a TV adaptation of his 2020 Booker Prize winning novel Shuggie Bain, about a young boy in public housing in Thatcherite times, to broadcast on the BBC, and is now confirmed to be working on an adaptation of Young Mungo also, Deadline reports.

Young Mungo follows Protestant Mungo and Catholic James, who grow up in public housing in Glasglow and “become best friends as they find a sanctuary in the pigeon dovecote that James has built for his prize racing birds.” (We do love a birder novel.) Suart was born in Glasgow and moved to NYC in adulthood to work in fashion.

A24 are of course the studio behind the Oscar-dominating Everything Everywhere All At Once (if you enjoyed watching that, you might like reading these books). A broadcaster has not yet been announced.

[via Deadline]

Jonathan Franzen would like to remind you to keep your vicious little cats indoors.

Emily Temple

March 21, 2023, 10:18am

Yes, that’s right, for the birds!! In a new video for PETA, Jonathan Franzen—speaking from what I can only assume is his own kitchen (pardon, could that be a new manuscript next to the stove? BE CAREFUL)—pops up yet again to discuss the “number one direct threat” to American birds: outdoor cats.

Apparently, not only do cats left to roam outdoors kill lots of birds (“like, three or four birds a day”), but they themselves are often victims of outdoor perils like raccoons, creating a veritable lose-lose situation. But hey, Franzen’s novels are actually helping solve the problem. “Almost always when I speak to a person who has read my books,” he says, “if the person mentions they have a cat, they immediately say ‘and I keep the cat indoors.’ They add, ‘I didn’t used to.'” Behold the power of books!

The helpful text in question is, of course, Freedom (recall the cover if you please), and Franzen plopped this message in there in purpose. “The one small part of the book that had an actual activist motive was the very end, where we’re introduced to a predatory housecat that’s running outside and killing songbirds by the scores,” he told The Guardian in 2010.

When it occurred to me that I could end the book with the main character Walter’s problems with this cat, I realized that I could also perform an educational service. Most people aren’t aware of the degree to which free-roaming outdoor cats are a problem in this country. At least a million birds a day are killed by them, so we’re talking about a minimum of 365 million birds in America alone in the course of a year—perhaps as many as a billion. So there was an educational impulse there.

“It’s not like I hate cats,” Franzen says in the PETA video. But take it from Walter, an avid birder (like Franzen) and probable cat-killer on the subject:

Walter had never liked cats. They’d seemed to him the sociopaths of the pet world, a species domesticated as an evil necessary for the control of rodents and subsequently fetishized the way unhappy countries fetishize their militaries, saluting the uniforms of killers as cat owners stroke their animals’ lovely fur and forgive their claws and fangs. He’d never seen anything in a cat’s face but simpering incuriosity and self-interest; you only had to tease one with a mouse-toy to see where it’s true heart lay…cats were all about using people.

Which is not to say he’s wrong! I really couldn’t say. I, after all, am a dog person.

Watch the video for yourself, but be warned there are some semi-gruesome images of dead animals alongside Franzen’s kitchen—thanks PETA:

Exclusive: See the cover for Bryan Washington’s new novel, Family Meal.

Literary Hub

March 21, 2023, 10:00am

Literary Hub is pleased to reveal the cover for Bryan Washington’s latest novel, Family Meal, coming this fall from Riverhead Books. Here’s a bit about the book from the publisher:

From the bestselling, award-winning author of Memorial and Lot, an irresistible, intimate novel about two young men, once best friends, whose lives collide again after a loss.

Cam is living in Los Angeles and falling apart after the love of his life has died. Kai’s ghost won’t leave Cam alone; his spectral visits wild, tender, and unexpected. When Cam returns to his hometown of Houston, he crashes back into the orbit of his former best friend, TJ, and TJ’s family bakery. TJ’s not sure how to navigate this changed Cam, impenetrably cool and self-destructing, or their charged estrangement. Can they find a way past all that has been said—and left unsaid—to save each other? Could they find a way back to being okay again, or maybe for the first time?

When secrets and wounds become so insurmountable that they devour us from within, hope and sustenance and friendship can come from the most unlikely source. Spanning Los Angeles, Houston, and Osaka, Family Meal is a story about how the people who know us the longest can hurt us the most, but how they also set the standard for love. With his signature generosity and eye for food, sex, love, and the moments that make us the most human, Bryan Washington returns with brilliant new novel.

And here’s the cover, which was designed by Grace Han, Associate Art Director at Riverhead Books:

bryan washington family meal

“Bryan’s writing tackles healing, sensuality, and connection particularly through food—GOOD food,” designer Grace Han told Literary Hub. “People both literally and metaphorically come to the table to address grief and love. I think the image of interlocking forks mirrors interlocking fingers, giving us a sense of vulnerability and connection—feelings that this book explores so beautifully.

“Grace Han really outdid herself: I couldn’t be happier with her work,” Bryan Washington told Literary Hub.

Because the cover for Family Meal was genuinely a challenge, and we worked through a few different concepts. There’s a softness, design-wise, that my eye is generally drawn to, and I really admire when a focal image is presented against warmer color profiles. It felt essential that the cover art alluded to connection, but I didn’t want that presentation to feel obvious or reductive. And it was similarly important to me that the image’s language worked on a few different levels, aside from whatever front-facing signal a reader might pick up on. Sometimes, with English language books featuring characters from historically marginalized communities, there’s an impulse to sort of stampede over subtlety in the interest of signaling for a “perceived audience.” But more often than not, what you get is a not-great product. And one that’s immune to play. So it was important to me that the design functioned clearly on a number of levels, while still holding enough subtly to allow room for interpretation and softness and playfulness.

None of these things is easy to accomplish on their own. Let alone all of them. So it felt unrealistic to think these ideas would be achieved in tandem. But Grace truly, truly came through—and she consistently accomplishes this, time and time again, with each of her covers. The image immediately coded with the book for me, and seeing it felt like an exhale at the end of a long trek. I really couldn’t be more grateful toward her.

Family Meal will be published by Riverhead Books on October 10, 2023. Preorder it here.

Watch President Biden award Colson Whitehead, Amy Tan their National Humanities Medals today.

Janet Manley

March 21, 2023, 9:27am

Today, President Joe Biden will award 12 Americans a National Humanities Medal at the White House. Dr. Jill Biden, a woman of letters, will watch on, as can you via a live stream beginning at 4:30 pm EDT.

The medals, awarded in conjunction with National Medals of Arts, are intended to reward people whose work has:

deepened the nation’s understanding of the human experience, broadened citizens’ engagement with history or literature, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to cultural resources.

The 2021 winners (awarded this year) include:

Amy Tan, of 1989 bestseller The Joy Luck Club as well as The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Saving Fish from Drowning, The Valley of Amazement, and several children’s books.

Ann Patchett, who described the general gist of her novels to the White House as “A group of strangers are thrown together by circumstance and form a society … That’s it.”

Colson Whitehead, whose 2016 instant classic Underground Railroad won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Carnegie Medal for Fiction. He is also the author of The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, and the Harlem Trilogy, the second book of which, Crook Manifesto, will publish this year.

Henrietta Mann, a Cheyenne woman and academic whose work has focused on building Native American education, and whose extremely enjoyable master’s thesis was on bird imagery in Jane Eyre. (“The fact that the tree will no longer serve as a retreat for birds is a foreshadowing of burned Thornfield Hall, which will no longer shelter Jane and Rochester, whose love flourishes there.”)

Poet Richard Blanco, who delivered the 2013 Inauguration Day poem, “One Today,” for President Obama’s second inauguration ceremony.

Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, which chronicled his work as a public interest lawyer, and was made into a film.

Biographer Walter Isaacson, who came up through the Washington Post, has written books about the lives of Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs, and—currently in the works—Elon Musk.

Tara Westover, whose 2018 memoir Educated was a bestseller—the child of Mormon doomsday preppers.

Academic Earl Lewis, the Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University Professor of History, Afroamerican and African Studies, and Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Academic Johnnetta B. Cole, the first African-American president of Spelman College, and former director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

Native America Calling, a call-in radio show that aims to connect tribal and non-tribal Americans.

The ceremony will also recognize Sir Elton John, Vera Wang, Jose Feliciano, Julia Louis Dreyfuss, and Gladys Knight.

Tune in live on your laptop at 4:30 pm EDT here.