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Book News: Thomas Berger, Author Of 'Little Big Man,' Dies

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

  • Thomas Berger, the witty and feverishly prolific author of Little Big Man, died July 13 in Nyack, N.Y., following an illness, his publisher said Monday. He was 89. Although Berger was most famous for Little Big Man, which became a movie starring Dustin Hoffman, he wrote dozens of other books in genres varying from sci-fi to crime to Westerns. "Berger's books are accessible and funny and immerse you in the permanent strangeness of his language and attitude, perhaps best encapsulated by Berger's own self-definition as a 'voyeur of copulating words,' " Jonathan Lethem wrote in a 2012 essay. "He offers a book for every predilection: if you like westerns, there's his classic, 'Little Big Man'; so, too, has he written fables of suburban life ('Neighbors'), crime stories ('Meeting Evil'), fantasies, small-town 'back-fence' stories of Middle American life, and philosophical allegories ('Killing Time')." In a 1980 interview, Berger told The New York Times, "I should like the reader to be aware that a book of mine is written in the English language, which I love with all my heart and write to the best of my ability and with the most honorable of intentions — which is to say, I am peddling no quackery, masking no intent to tyrannize, and asking nobody's pity. (I suspect that I am trying to save my own soul, but that's nobody else's business.)"
  • Publishers Lunch reports that the dispute between Amazon and Hachette Book Group may be deterring customers: A survey by the Codex Group found that about 39 percent of 5,300-plus respondents were aware of the conflict and, of those, 19 percent said they were buying fewer books from Amazon. Also, 4.4 percent said they have increased their spending at Amazon. "This is the first time we've measured consumer dissatisfaction with Amazon resulting in significant declines in purchase intent," Codex's Peter Hildick-Smith said.
  • Dwight Garner of The New York Times reviews a new Harper Lee biography: "The Mockingbird Next Door conjured mostly sad images in my mind. Ms. Lee has a regular booth at McDonald's, where she goes for coffee. She eats takeout salads from Burger King on movie night. When she fishes, she uses wieners for bait. She feeds the town ducks daily, with seed corn from a plastic Cool Whip Free container, calling 'Woo-hoo-HOO! Woo-hoo-HOO!' Somehow learning all this is worse than it would be to learn that she steals money from a local orphanage." (We book critics, on the other hand, compose our reviews in sharply cut tailcoats and drink tea steeped in the ashes of former poet laureates.)
  • Buzzfeed asked a bunch of writers and journalists of color for their best pieces of career advice. Cord Jefferson said, "Get into the habit of talking to people and asking them questions about their life, and don't do the thing where you zone out of conversations until it's your turn to speak — actually listening to people and the world around you is like 35 percent of being a good writer. Don't surround yourself only with other writers/journalists/media people; self-imposed insularity is the fastest way to smother your creativity. And don't stress out about ingratiating yourself with The Media Scene. A lot of the parties suck."
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    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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