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Kim Jong-Il: Movie Buff, Supervillain

By 1978, Shin Sang-ok, South Korea’s most celebrated filmmaker, was 51 years old and washed up. He had bankrupted his studio, run afoul of the censor board, and been divorced by his wife and collaborator, actress Choi Eun-hee. And then he and Choi were kidnapped by North Korea. The story of how the couple’s careers were forcibly revived, as told in Paul Fischer’s book, A Kim Jong-Il Production, provides not only a riveting look inside a murky state, but a glimpse into North Korea’s movie obsession, and a lens through which to see the current regime’s outrage at the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy The Interview. The book’s titular “production” is North Korea itself, which Fischer depicts as “a theatre state” propped up by symbols and spectacles, its ideological cornerstone a film treatise: Kim’s 1973 book, On the Art of Cinema.

Peter Carey on Cultural Amnesia

The day after Peter Carey was asked to ghostwrite the autobiography of Julian Assange, he started to write a novel instead. Someone else’s memoir, he says, would have been out of his skill set — “the novelist, of course, wants to be totally in control” — but he was nonetheless inspired by the Wikileaks founder, his fellow Australian. “Americans were saying that he was a ‘traitor.’ I was appalled by the imperial hubris and ignorance, and I was thinking, ‘Guys, be careful what you sow.’ ”

Literary Lyrics–Pop Goes Uptown

“Catch on fire above the green empire of the kraken / Flow with the isosceles to the beat of six knees knocking.” These lyrics may seem to have been unearthed from a triple-concept album dating back to the height of prog-rock, but you’ll find them on Mark Ronson’s new effort, Uptown Special, which was released Jan. 13. Its lead-off single, “Uptown Funk,” featuring Bruno Mars, currently sits at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it’s something of a Trojan Horse: apart from it and a funk-tastic rave-up featuring rapper Mystikal, the album’s other nine tracks have words penned by … Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon.

Book Review: Daniel Lanois

Two-thirds of the way into his memoir, Daniel Lanois describes his approach in recording Bob Dylan’s album Time Out of Mind: “I wanted the shadows to hold hidden secrets, for the details to pique the curiosity of a viewer … I wanted the sunlight in the portrait to outlive us all, and be blazing with premonition, hope and redemption.”

Salman Rushdie

Midtown Manhattan is almost afloat, battered by a near-monsoon. Sheets of rain drench anyone foolhardy enough to cross 8th Avenue, but when Salman Rushdie saunters into the Wylie Agency, umbrella in hand, there’s nary a droplet to be seen on his pinstriped suit.

Book Review: Keith Richards

Two-thirds of the way through his sprawling autobiography, Keith Richards pauses for a rare moment of introspection. “Image is like a long shadow,” he offers. “It’s impossible not to end up being a parody of what you thought you were.”

Tom McCarthy

The title of Tom McCarthy’s new novel, C, stands for seemingly countless things: the surname of protagonist Serge Carrefax; the caul that he is born with in 1898; the copper wire that transmits the wireless signals he sends; the cocaine he ingests in the Royal Air Force in the First World War; the crypt near Cairo where he finds himself towards the end of the novel in 1922; as well as communication, circuits, carbon, curves …

Jonathan Franzen

He writes long novels in which his characters are put through every kind of difficulty – with jobs, relationships, family, medical issues and even angry mobs. But ultimately, Jonathan Franzen just wants to make his readers happy.

William Gibson

Most authors’ tours involve repetitive rounds of readings, interviews and book signings, but when William Gibson goes on the road — as he’s currently doing for his new novel, Zero History — his experience is somewhat different. Obsessive fans present gadgets to be autographed (motherboards, the backs of laptops, BlackBerrys, etc.), and just about everyone asks him to predict the future.

Ken Finkleman

Ken Finkleman walks warily into the French café that he’s chosen for our interview about his debut novel, Noah’s Turn. Offered a handshake, he responds with a cagey fist-bump. The photographer asks to take him across the street for a portrait, where he can get good lighting. Finkleman shakes his head. “That’s not going to work. I know the shot I want.” After a terse exchange, he gets his way.