When I first read that the CIA used Dr. Zhivago to breakdown the USSR during The Cold War, I assumed that they forced Soviets to watch that movie on repeat as a form of torture. I know, I know, before you get all up in arms about “how wonderful that film is” and “what a classic,” I’m a big fan of Omar Sharif and Alec Guinness (hello, Lawrence of Arabia.) But think about Dr. Zhivago’s torture potential. No human could watch that 3+ hour Russian downer drama twice in a row without cracking. You would have to have a will of steel not to end up in a ball crying, “The balalaika! It’s always the balalaika!”
But I guess the CIA wasn’t on the same page. According to recently declassified CIA documents, the U.S. government commissioned Russian-language editions of Boris Pasternak’s novel (which Mother Russia had banned) and distributed them to citizens in Moscow. The story largely takes place during the Bolshevik Revolution and dramatizes the casualties of the Communist rising, so the Americans thought it would make great anti-USSR propaganda. We should fight more wars with these kinds of non-lethal weapons. This plot ranks right up there with blue jeans and MTV bringing down the Berlin Wall. [Washington Post]
The nominees for Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction have been announced. For fiction, the judges chose Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch, Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. And in the nonfiction list: the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit, Nicholas A. Basbanes’ On Paper, and Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial. Check back for the winners on June 28th.
Remember that rumor that some books in Harvard’s library were bound in human skin? Well - that has now been proven false. The leathery substance is actually sheep skin. Hannibal Lector just threw out his library card. [Open Culture; The Guardian]
Over at The New Yorker, “This Week in Fiction” is television. Irish writer, Roddy Doyle has a Q&A and a short story about guys in a bar arguing about whether Mad Men is better than House of Cards. When asked if TV is the new novel, Doyle says: “I think if Dickens was alive today, he’d have been working for the BBC, until HBO offered him much more money.” [New Yorker]