Private: Coetzee, Canada’s award winning books missing, Jackson, Mailer the younger, Cleary, Tolkien, National Book Award contenders, literary magazines

Coetzee will collect his Nobel in person. (Via The Elegant Variation.)

Shelley Jackson comments on her “Skin” project (in which volunteers each have one word of a story tattooed on their bodies):

People have written to me saying that if two Words met, fell in love and had a baby, would that offspring be a footnote?

Canada’s Governor-General discovered that the Governor-General’s library, “was lacking 150 of the 492 books that have won a Governor-General’s Award since Lord Tweedsmuir (a.k.a. John Buchan, the author of The 39 Steps) bestowed the inaugural prize in 1937.” Eleven titles are still missing. (Via Arts Journal.)

Norman Mailer’s son, John Buffalo Mailer, has taken over High Times, a magazine traditionally devoted to marijuana-related stories. Mailer wants to shift the focus of the magazine:

In sober and idealistic tones, Mr. Mailer, who smokes marijuana “occasionally,” he said, described his plan to wean the magazine off its dependence on “the plant” — not to eliminate coverage, but to make it part of a broader diet of lifestyle articles.

“With the new High Times we’re using it as a metaphor,” he said. “So it’s not a magazine about pot, it’s a magazine about our civil liberties, and our tag line is `Celebrating Freedom.’ Our feeling is it’s patriotic to be in High Times.”

Beverly Cleary, one of my favorite children’s authors, has been awarded the National Medal of Arts. (Via BookWatch.)

The Boston Globe considers the influence and marketing of Tolkien:

For nearly five decades, Tolkien was untouched by that morass of Rowling-sized sales hysteria of Happy Meals and bubble bath.

Everything has changed since the release of the first two films in director Peter Jackson’s chart-busting Rings film trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001 and The Two Towers in 2002. As Tolkien’s fame and fortune have swollen to unprecedented levels, ranks of movie-driven enthusiasts have multiplied like Saruman’s orcs, trampling any vestiges of that deep-rooted if naive grass-roots movement that once prevented Tolkien’s corporate-driven mass exploitation.

Laura Miller says the National Book Award fiction shortlist is predictable and generally includes:

…. one celebrated book … a few stolid, well-reviewed non-blockbusters and a title hardly anyone has heard of. As a result, when the finalists are revealed, few critics or editors have read all five of the books, and to judge from informal surveys conducted in the press section at the ceremony held a few weeks later, it stays that way. Should the long shot land the prize, as happened last year with Julia Glass’s ”Three Junes,” the crowd isn’t sure whether to be pleased at the triumph of an underdog or consider it more evidence of the constitutional perversity of the National Book Awards.

After reading this year’s five contenders, Miller says Boyle’s Drop City is the only one she would put on her own shortlist. In closing, she argues:

Writers, who harbor the understandable hope that everyone will read their books, resist the idea that only a handful of truly excellent titles are published annually. The common reader, who often has time for only three or four novels per year, wants someone to point out the very best. The more the National Book Awards serve the former, the less relevance they’ll have to the latter.

Miller characterizes Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire as “a very refined but strangely antique novel in the modernist mode.” “In short,” she says, “if you want to give E. M. Forster a National Book Award but have been thwarted because he is (1) dead and (2) English, here’s a viable substitute.”

Alan Wall, on the other hand, reviews the Hazzard book for the Guardian and is impressed:

The praise is deserved. Her finely nuanced observations about human relations often have a subtlety reminiscent of Henry James…. There is nothing here of that melodrama of overstatement that characterises a certain brand of contemporary writing.

“This is a very fine novel indeed,” he decides.

Robert McCrum remembers the start of The Paris Review.