Novelist Michel Houellebecq Is Missing, Alice Sebold's Tonga Books, and More

Evan Smith Rakoff

Every day Poets & Writers Magazine scans the headlines—from publishing reports to academic announcements to literary dispatches—for all the news that creative writers need to know. Here are today's stories:

Yesterday it was reported that French novelist and poet Michel Houellebecq, whose provocative work addresses topics such as sex tourism, has gone missing. Scheduled for a reading tour of the Netherlands and Belgium, the author failed to appear, and cannot be reached by his publishers. (San Francisco Chronicle)

GalleyCat has more on the Author's Guild lawsuit against university libraries and their allowing Google to scan seven million books. In a statement by the Library Copyright Alliance, they write, “It is deplorable that eight authors and three special interest groups are trying to dismantle this invaluable resource out of a misplaced fear of the digital future.” The Author's Guild fires back by demonstrating that it takes less than three minutes to track down the author (and copyright owner) of a so-called orphaned book, which are out-of-print titles Google intends to post online.

Two young-adult novelists claim agents discourage their having gay characters in their manuscript: "When we set out to find an agent for it, we expected to get some rejections. But we never expected to be offered representation…on the condition that we make a gay character straight, or cut him out altogether." (Publishers Weekly)

New York City's Brooklyn Book Festival is this Sunday. Now in its sixth year, the daylong event will feature 181 exhibitors and 272 authors giving readings, signing books, and participating in panel discussions. (Wall Street Journal)

Meanwhile, the nearby Community Bookstore will celebrate its fortieth anniversary with a Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend event, a reading featuring Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, Jonathan Safran Foer, Mary Morris, and Joe Scieszska. (Shelf Awareness)

Alice Sebold has launched a publishing imprint, Tonga Books, and novelist Gina Frangello speaks with the Lovely Bones author about the new venture. (Nervous Breakdown)

Frustrated with her publisher's insistence on marketing her books as chick lit, Polly Courtney announced at the launch party for her third book, It's a Man's World, that she's leaving HarperCollins and will self-publish her next book. (Guardian)

To supplement his fourth novel, Luminous Airplanes, arriving later this month, Paul La Farge created a website,, on which he'll publish immersive text that interplays with the printed narrative—indefinitely. He says, "The book is mostly centered on one place, and it feels very much like it’s about the small world the narrator has lived in. The immersive text is about the experience of living in a big world and that the boundaries of what the narrator has been thinking are too narrow. He has to widen his thinking." (Time Out Chicago)

Poet David Kirby admits he was under the influence of oxycodone when he began reading Yusef Komunyakaa's latest book of poems, The Chameleon Couch. Though Kirby deems it a "hard" read, he insists, no "pharmaceutical boost was needed" and gives the book a glowing review, with no vapor trails. (Los Angeles Review of Books)

[Correction An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that David Kirby was under the influence of LSD when he read Yusef Komunyakaa's book of poems. In fact, he had taken oxycodone.]


Oh, If Only It Were

My students will be thrilled to read that I dropped acid before starting Yusef Komunyakaa's wonderful book, but a not-so-careful read of the review's first paragraph reveals that I had taken oxycodone, a prescription pain reliever my dentist gave me following surgery. Or maybe I should just quote Salvador Dali: "Take drugs? I AM drugs!"

No Offense Taken

No apology needed, Evan. Poetry's powerful stuff -- it'll do that to you.