3 Articles About Books to Read Right Now -- Marlene Dietrich v. Leni Riefenstahl, Jonathan Franzen, and Blurbs

This article first appeared in The National Book Review

Sragow reviews Karin Wieland's dual biography of Leni Riefenstahl, who advanced her filmmaking career by aligning herself with Nazism, and Marlene Dietrich, who emigrated and found success in Hollywood. "Both juggled multiple lovers; the bisexual Dietrich also married early, raised a daughter and supported her never-divorced husband throughout their lives," Sragow writes. "But Dietrich and Riefenstahl diverged on the crucial civic and moral decision of their day: to back Hitler or renounce him."

Dwyer explores the strange world of the "blurb," the ubiquitous words of praise from other authors on the back of book jackets. People have been decrying their influence at least since 1936, when George Orwell blamed the decline of the novel on "the disgusting tripe that is written by the blurb-reviewers." Also: no one knows if they actually sell books.

Taken from The 50s: The Story of a Decade, an anthology of New Yorker articles, stories, and poems published this week, Franzen's essay explores the rise of a distinct new literary form. The creators of "The New Yorker story," including John Cheever, John Updike, and Ann Beattie spoke a common language. New Yorker stories were marked by "carefully wrought, many-comma'd prose" and long passages of physical description . . ." Franzen says, and "well-educated white characters, who could be found experiencing the melancholies of affluence, the doldrums of suburban marriage, or the thrill or the desolation of adultery . . ."