Faking It Till You Make It

Working in publishing, one sees as fair amount of imitation, both good and bad. Authors model their own work after the books they love, or those that they feel have sold well in the past. It sometimes leads to disaster, but often it is a pleasure to read and engage with, if not for the content than at least for the intention. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Never have I seen this made more abundantly clear than in Lee Israel’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a short but sweet memoir about one woman’s days as a forger of literary letters.

It’s a story that reads like any other crime narrative. A person is down on their luck, trying to make ends meet, and picks up a questionable hobby that gets them on the wrong side of the law. But, here’s what makes Can You Ever Forgive Me? turn from criminal to almost comedic: Israel was a New York Times bestselling biographer, on contract with a major publishing house and in possession of serious respect for historical accuracy. For about a year and a half in the 1990s, she created hundreds of reproduced and fabricated celebrity letters that were sold and traded by major dealers across the country, going for thousands of dollars.

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A Book As Impossible to Describe as it is to Put Down

This holiday season, consider the shop girl.

She’s on her feet all day, circling the floor or standing behind the counter, appeasing indecisive old ladies, harried mothers with screaming children, impatient business men, lecherous supervisors. She’s repeating herself, stocking and restocking, bored, waiting, often temporary. She’s apathetic Therese working at the doll counter for the holidays in The Price of Salt, or lonely Mirabelle in Shopgirl, “selling things that nobody buys anymore.” She’s the hot lingerie sales clerk in Christmas Vacation, getting salivated over by a sweaty, breathless Chevy Chase.

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There’s Something About This Man They Call James Baldwin

There is something about him. What is it, what is it? Oh, I don’t know. I can’t put it into words. But I’m telling you, there’s something about this man they call James Baldwin, who died before I was born and whose legacy was posted on the walls before I could read. I’m telling you again, and again, I can feel it, I can see it—there’s something about this man. I just know it.

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Book That Changed My Life

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So many books, so little time.

-Frank Zappa