• July 2, 2015

    Bill O'Reilly

    Bill O’Reilly

    Publishers Weekly gently addresses Bill O’Reilly’s distress over their failure to include his book Killing Reagan in their latest “announcement issue,” which provides librarians and booksellers with a list of the upcoming season’s significant books.

    The political journalist Leslie Gelb has landed in trouble for apparently promising Hillary Clinton friendly coverage in advance—”He said he would give you a veto over content,” a fundraiser wrote to Clinton, “and looked me in the eye and said, ‘she will like it’”—and sending her the text of his 2009 piece to read before it came out. The new owners of the magazine that published it have now added a defensive editor’s note: “While we cannot speak to the policies of prior owners, AMG/Parade does not promise favorable coverage or allow any story subject control of the editorial process.”

    Scribd, the subscription-based reading site that aims to be a Netflix for e-books, is dropping thousands of romance novels from its catalogue. They have to pay the publishers every time someone downloads and gets stuck into one of their titles, and apparently Scribd had hoped, as Laura Hazard Owen writes, that it would be “more like gym memberships” (most people never go)—turns out this business model doesn’t work so well when subscribers actually want to read the books.

    President Obama joined the ranks of those slamming the New York Times for recommending putting peas in guacamole as “one of those radical moves that is also completely obvious after you taste it.”

  • July 1, 2015

    David Foster Wallace and Jason Segel

    David Foster Wallace and Jason Segel

    ‘‘I think let’s start iterating,’’ Arianna Huffington says. ‘‘Let’s not wait for the perfect product.’’ At the New York Times magazine, a look inside how the Huffington Post is run: “It’s as though Huffington is spreading an illness while simultaneously peddling the cure. Call it hypocrisy, but it testifies to her savvy. The business of web media is figuring out what people want — and if what we want is contradictory, why shouldn’t Huffington profit from that contradiction?” A recent Gawker post called the place “essentially Soviet in its functioning. Purges and show trials are common.”

    If you have time in life to read just one more piece on David Foster Wallace (now being played by Jason Segel in a new film), you should probably make it this one.

    As of Monday, the NSA gets to start collecting Americans’ phone records in bulk again, only this time they don’t have to keep it a secret.

    The author of The Car Thief, Theodore Weesner, has died. The New York Times has an obituary that quotes from Weesner’s strongly worded letter to the editors of the NYT Book Review (writers take note) in response to a 1987 piece on one of his less well known novels: “I repeat: Your reviewer did not even understand what he read. And you printed it. You break my heart. You owe me much more than an apology.”

    The Paris Review is putting up some recordings of conversations with writers (“consider them deleted scenes from our Writers at Work interviews, or directors’ cuts”): This week, it’s the poet Czesław Miłosz.

  • June 30, 2015

    “But why would Europe do this?” Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, weighs in on the situation in Greece, concluding: “I know how I would vote.”

    Ottessa Moshfegh

    Ottessa Moshfegh

    The Center for Fiction has announced its longlist for the 2015 First Novel Prize, and those in contention include Ottessa Moshfegh, Ben Metcalf, and Miranda July.

    It looks as if Rebekah Brooks, remarkably unscathed by the vast phone-hacking scandal that saw her face criminal charges, will soon make a comeback in Murdoch-land, perhaps as chief executive of News UK.

    The French film director Claire Denis, who set Beau Travail, her 1999 reimagining of Melville’s Billy Budd, in Djibouti among the soldiers of the French Foreign Legion, is heading further afield with her first English-language movie, which will take place in space. And she has new writing partners—Zadie Smith and her husband Nick Laird will be collaborating on the script.

    Turns out a lot of readers aren’t so keen on Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James—still, she’s probably not unhappy with the scale of her consolation prize.

    Literary editor Sam Leith asks if academic presses are the only ones left willing and able to publish serious nonfiction. While trade publishers churn out “voguish but vague,” under-researched, big-idea books of the kind that make you wonder if anyone with a conscience at those houses “might not even now be wriggling in the stationery cupboard with gaffer tape over his mouth and his limbs secured with climbing rope,” the university presses have started picking up and bringing to the general reader the works of history, popular science and biography they used to find elsewhere. Of course, though, publishing hasn’t completely shifted on its axis: You can still find “lousy, abstruse, jargon-heavy books” coming out from academic publishers left and right.

    The two big New York tabloids can’t even seem to out-pun each other any more—they’re resorting to nearly identical headlines.

  • June 29, 2015

    The Huffington Post is aiming to increase its number of contributors from one hundred thousand to one million, using a new app, Donatello, and a self-publishing platform for writers. Arianna Huffington assures us cynics that there will be a system in place for “preserving the quality”: Would-be authors will have to be approved by editors (once) before they can start creating hard-hitting citizen journalism (for free, of course).

    Buzzfeed has an intriguing report on Sidney Blumenthal, adviser, “confidant,” and controversy magnet to Hillary Clinton. It discusses his friendship with Tina Brown and his somewhat shadowy influence on the Daily Beast’s early political coverage, including two hit pieces he apparently commissioned and edited on Caroline Kennedy when she was challenging Clinton for the Senate.

    How newspapers headlined the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage: “Love Supreme” (the Press of Atlantic City), “Equal Dignity” (New York Times), “We Do” (San Francisco Chronicle), and “U.S. Gay!” (Daily News).    

    In the Globe and Mail, Jade Colbert reviews the work of Nelly Arcan, the Quebec novelist who committed suicide in 2009. Colbert argues that Arcan, who wrote dark-themed autofiction, is one of Canada’s greatest writers: “Reading Arcan can also feel at times unbearable; she . . . presents difficult gifts: a disquieting world, presented bluntly, stripped of pretty words that normalize.”

    Nelly Arcan

    Nelly Arcan

    At the ALA conference in San Francisco, Anthony Doerr won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction for All the Light we Cannot See, while Bryan Stevenson won the nonfiction prize for Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

  • June 26, 2015

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    In light of events in Charleston, Random House has decided to move the publication date of Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s forthcoming book on race, bringing it out in July rather than September. “We started to feel pregnant with this book,” the executive editor of the Spiegel & Grau imprint said. “We had this book that so many people wanted.” They’d previously discussed publishing early during the protests following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but the book had not been ready then. “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died,” Toni Morrison apparently wrote this week in response to the publisher’s blurb request. “Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates.”

    Reason.com editor Nick Gillespie describes receiving a grand jury subpoena for identifying information on commenters who’d expressed anger toward the judge in the recent Silk Road case—and then a gag order preventing him from discussing it all.

    At the New York Times, public editor Margaret Sullivan responds to the mockery and complaints the paper has come in for following their announcement of TV critic Alessandra Stanley’s new beat covering the “top 1 percent of the 1 percent.” Dean Baquet is quoted as assuring us that, whatever Twitter might think, the beat “will not be ‘isn’t it cool to be rich.’”

    The Argentine writer Pablo Katchadjian, who faced a lawsuit from the widow of Jorge Luis Borges for his 2009 small-press experiment El Aleph engordado (The Fattened Aleph, a reboot of the Borges story “The Aleph” that added new material, more than doubling its word count), has now been charged with “intellectual property fraud” and could do up to six years for his literary prank.

    A collection of essays by Chloe Caldwell, I’ll Tell You in Person, due out next year, will be one of the first books published by Coffee House Press in their new partnership with the delectable Emily Books—it may be time to revisit Caldwell’s g-chat conversation with Emily Gould about the importance for women writers of “being a fan of yourself.” And if you succeed in that, Caldwell also teaches a memoir class in New York you can take.

    Margaret Atwood will be publishing a series of autobiographical cartoons in a Kickstarter-funded Canadian anthology called The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, which one hopes will be more or less exactly what it sounds like.

  • June 25, 2015

    The full statement by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, sentenced to death yesterday, can be read at the Boston Globe.

    Politico asks why David Bradley, owner of the Atlantic Media Company, decided to cooperate with the competition on the story of his long efforts to help find American hostages taken in Syria—the long and absorbing report by Lawrence Wright appeared yesterday in the New Yorker, and should be read: Among other things, it is full of salutary details about the way US government agencies work (or don’t work) in these situations.

    If you have not yet heard about the forthcoming film of Djuna Barnes’s Ladies Almanack, due out early next year and starring (as if in a dream) the poet Eileen Myles as Monique Wittig and the great Hélène Cixous as herself, you can read an interview with the director here.

    Tonight at Albertine (972 Fifth Avenue), the Feminist Press will be celebrating the publication of Thérèse and Isabelle, a vivid account of a love affair between two schoolgirls by the French novelist Violette Leduc, written in mid-century but only now available here in full, uncensored form. Simone de Beauvoir admired it hugely but apparently told Nelson Algren it wouldn’t get published—it was “a story of lesbian sexuality as crude as anything by Genet.” There will be a discussion between Amber Dawn, Dia Felix, and Melissa Febos, and it will be free in every sense.

  • June 24, 2015

    Roxane Gay

    Roxane Gay

    Roxane Gay begins her regular opinion contributions to the New York Times with a powerful piece on the rhetoric of forgiveness for crimes such as Dylann Roof’s, and on her own unwillingness to forgive: “Black people forgive because we need to survive. We have to forgive time and time again while racism or white silence in the face of racism continues to thrive. We have had to forgive slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, lynching, inequity in every realm, mass incarceration, voter disenfranchisement, inadequate representation in popular culture, microaggressions and more. We forgive and forgive and forgive and those who trespass against us continue to trespass against us.”

    As the Supreme Court prepares to rule on same-sex marriage, the novelist and Bookforum contributor Alexander Chee tries to imagine what the future may hold for gay people in America, writing movingly in the New Republic of the “very strange sort of ambivalence” he is feeling: “At my most pessimistic, I fear that this decision, along with the appearance of PrEP, is a sign of some sort of Freudian repetition cycle the whole country is in, in which marriage equality is always being fought for and decided, and AIDS is always the ground for advances in treatment instead of a cure—all while these other very serious issues also need attention, and we fight forever over the same inch of ground.”

    It’s been a good week for New York Times correction-watchers. After a British teenager managed to scam the newspaper into including imaginary details about Dylann Roof in one of their reports—notably that Roof had blogged about “My Little Pony”—public editor Margaret Sullivan reflected on the embarrassing incident, and on the importance of fact-checking: “’If your mother tells you she loves you,’ says the journalism aphorism, ‘check it out.’ Not enough of that happened here.”

    And at Vulture, Boris Kachka reports that fact-checkers may soon be more in demand than ever, as some book publishers are apparently deciding it’s worth paying for their services. Susan Orlean tells Kachka of her initial surprise at the vast difference between publishing in the New Yorker and putting out a book. “Publishers assume that writers do their own fact-checking,” Orlean says, “but that’s a little bit like having an internal-investigation department that’s run by the people being investigated.”

    Presumably the new precautions wouldn’t apply to fiction writers, though perhaps they should—Shin Kyung-sook, the South Korean novelist and past winner of the Man Asian literary prize, is in trouble for plagiarizing passages from Yukio Mishima’s work and, after an initial denial, has told a newspaper that “everything is my fault.”

    Let’s hope Terry Gilliam’s latest attempt to adapt Don Quixote will confirm the rarely cited seventh-time-lucky rule.

     

  • June 23, 2015

    Claudia Rankine

    Claudia Rankine

    From the New York Times Magazine, a devastating essay by Claudia Rankine: “The truth, as I see it, is that if black men and women, black boys and girls, mattered, if we were seen as living, we would not be dying simply because whites don’t like us.”

    So far the doxxing of Saudi Arabia doesn’t seem to have produced any major surprises, but at the Washington Post, Marc Lynch suggests that the materials published by Wikileaks and the Beirut paper al-Akhbar on Friday (the first batch, with many more to come) will matter more than you might think—as with the earlier leak of US diplomatic cables, even when it’s something everyone knows about, there’s a lot to be said for documented proof.

    Peter Wayner reminisces in the Atlantic about the editor who “looked at my one of my book proposals and said something along the lines of, ‘It feels like you’ve only got 20,000 words of material. You need at least 80,000 words for a book. Can you pad it?’” No such leniency from Amazon, who as of July plan to start paying royalties based on how many pages are actually read—authors who publish directly on Kindle may soon long to return to being judged by their covers.

    And poor beleaguered authors have to compete with the amateurs too: By the time E.L. James came out with the Fifty Shades of Grey sequel her fans had been clamoring for, one Gillian Griffin of Surrey had already posted her own rewrite of the first three novels from Christian Grey’s viewpoint, and got 8.8 million hits. (But lest your heart bleed for James, herself a fanfic graduate, her own version, Grey, has sold a million copies in its first week.)

    Amy Chozick told Cosmopolitan the oddly compelling tale of her life in journalism so far, from fetching prosciutto and melon at Condé Nast (“I’m from Texas, we call that ‘ham’”) to the Wall Street Journal’s frumpy, sweaty newsroom, all the way to the Clinton beat.

  • June 22, 2015

    Jess Row

    Jess Row

    At the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb points out that Dylann Roof’s alleged murder of six black women and three black men during a Bible-study class in Charleston last week “was nothing less than an act of terror.” David Remnick calls the merciful responses by relatives of the victims a “superhuman form of endurance and pity.”

    Jess Row’s novel Your Face in Mine, which came out last August, tells the story of a white man who has undergone “racial reassignment surgery” in order to become black. This character, Martin, “has diagnosed himself with what he calls Racial Identity Dysphoria Syndrome, and claims that he has always been black—that he was born in the wrong body.” Last week, with the Rachel Dolezal story in full force, Row found “a version of my novel was leaving the realm of the imaginary and becoming news.” Row compares the news and his novel in a new essay, noting the “nefarious” nature of Martin’s project, but also offering a complicated view of the fantasies around racial reassignment: “There are some people born into positions of power and privilege who are driven to, for lack of a better word, vacate themselves. This can originate in a deep political commitment, in radical feelings of empathy, in the trauma of feeling complicit in acts of violence, in what the critic Anne Cheng calls ‘racial melancholia,’ or even, perhaps, simply in a feeling that they were born in the wrong body. This impulse-to-vacate is problematic, to say the least, and dangerous at worst. But it exists. I’ve felt it myself. I believe it’s much more widespread than most of us imagine.”

    The novelist James Salter, who was called a “writer’s writer’s writer,” died on Friday.

    The Wall Street Journal wonders who will publish Pope Francis’s statement on global warming, which will soon “be up for grabs.” Apparently, Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House Press has contacted the US Conference of Bishops to express his interest. “We’d be excited and honored to publish it,” he said. “This kind of activist publishing is exactly what Melville House is all about.”

    Vanessa Grigoriadis has been hired as a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine.

    Geoff Dyer remembers Ornette Coleman.

  • June 19, 2015

    After the killings in Charleston this week, Ta-Nehisi Coates says the Confederate flag must at long last be taken down: “Roof’s crime cannot be divorced from the ideology of white supremacy which long animated his state nor from its potent symbol.”

    At the Guardian, Gideon Lewis-Kraus has a long and entertaining account of Politico’s recent expansion into the famously stuffy, unglamorous world of the EU: “Can Politico make Brussels sexy?” It seems a tall order, though certainly “an experiment with far-reaching implications, not only for the future of journalism but, perhaps, for the European self-image.” As one of Politico’s new reporters, Tara Palmeri, tells Lewis-Kraus “after obtaining for me in two minutes the commission press accreditation that can take others weeks: ‘They hired a gutsy girl who worked at Page Six to come through and destroy this town.’”

    And in a similar spirit—Lewis-Kraus characterizes Politico’s mission as “accelerating the news cycle’s ‘metabolism’ which, depending on your perspective on their approach, recalls either the quickening of the pulse or the churning of the bowels”—Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame is helping launch Brigade, an app for people who want to discover and debate their political views. “If we want to build a platform to disrupt democracy,” Parker rather mystifyingly says, “we can’t ignore politics.”

    Online troublemaker Charles C. Johnson is suing Gawker (also Politico, CNN) for libel: “On the whole,” he told reporter Betsy Rothstein, “ it’s nice to team up with Hulk Hogan and his people should call my people… If I can be the straw that breaks Gawker’s back, I’m quite pleased.” Rothstein also asked Gawker’s J.K. Trotter for comment and received this link.

    Brian Williams makes a comeback: He’s sorry he “said things that weren’t true”, and now he’s ready to be the breaking news anchor on MSNBC. Some were not persuaded by the claim from NBC News that Williams “for the most part” didn’t tell his tales from the anchor’s chair (he waited a while and told them on late-night talk shows)—and if Williams can no longer be trusted with the Nightly News, “what does this say about how NBC News views the ethics and standards of MSNBC”?

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