• May 4, 2016

    Adam Haslett

    Adam Haslett

    In its most recent quarterly report, the New York Times announced that it now has 1.4 million digital-only subscribers. The paper has gained 67,000 digital subscribers since the beginning of 2016.

    We were deeply entertained by the breadth of the index of cultural critic Chuck Klosterman’s forthcoming book, What If We’re Wrong: Thinking About the Present as if It Were the Past, which will be published in June. Skimming the A and B entries, we found: ABBA, AC/DC, Renata Adler, Aristotle, Jane Austen, Ballers, Baudrillard, the Bee Gees, blogging, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Budweiser.  

    TOR Publishing has announced that consulting editor Ann VanderMeer has acquired a new novella, titled The Warren, by the prolific and stylish horror writer Brian Evenson.

    After Jessa Crispin announced her plans to discontinue her web zine Bookslut, she granted an interview to New York Magazine, and her feelings about the publishing industry are far from enthusiastic. She explains her decision to stop Bookslut: “Part of the reason why I disengaged from it is I just don’t find American literature interesting. I find MFA culture terrible. Everyone is super-cheerful because they’re trying to sell you something, and I find it really repulsive. There seems to be less and less underground. And what it’s replaced by is this very professional, shiny, happy plastic version of literature.” She’s not a fan of much online books coverage, either, because, she claims, it has essentially mimicked the mainstream. “It’s just taking the print template and moving it online. I see the Millions used on book blurbs now. They’re so professional, and I mean that as an insult.”

    Adam Haslett, the author of the new novel Imagine Me Gone, notes in a new essay that a psychiatrist once told him that “psychosis is a fixed belief in an imaginary world lasting months or years, which no one but the patient himself is able to perceive.” The psychiatrist then “wondered if this wasn’t also a decent definition of a novelist.”

    On Thursday and Friday this week, the CUNY Graduate Center will host an interdisciplinary conference on translation and critical theory.

     

  • May 3, 2016

    Roxane Gay

    Roxane Gay

    Gawker’s tax returns for 2011 through 2013 were recently unsealed as part of Hulk Hogan’s invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against the company, in which a Florida court awarded Hogan $140 million. Tax records show that the company’s largest expense has been employee salaries. But another expense—fees sent to Gawker’s sister company in Hungary—have led Hogan’s lawyers to suggest that the company is “hiding money overseas.” Meanwhile, Hogan is suing Gawker again—not, this time, for releasing one of his private sex tapes, but for “allegedly leaking sealed court documents to the National Enquirer that quoted him making racist remarks.”

    Roxane Gay gave the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture that closed this year’s PEN World Voices Festival in New York, a talk that in the past has been given by Sonia Sotomayor, Colm Toibin, and Christopher Hitchens. She discussed her book Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, which was scheduled for release next month, but which she still has not finished. Gay, a prolific writer who has published two books (the novel An Untamed State and the essay collection Bad Feminist) noted that the memoir—which concerns, among other things, her own body image—has taken longer than she expected because she is wary of the “vulnerabilities she is exposing in herself.” But she has found a new inspiration to finish: Beyonce. “In Lemonade, Beyoncé is saying here is my truth, here is my life, my love, here is my blackness, here is my history … here is my heart, what’s left of it.” Gay also inspired loud applause when she called on publishers to bring more diversity to the industry: “Publishers need to hire people of color and pay them a living wage,”

    Daniel Aaron—who helped create the academic field known as American Studies—has died. A professor at Harvard, he was the founding president of the Library of America, and his books include the 2007 memoir The Americanist.

    The journalism organization ProPublica has taken over two databases started by the New York Times, which will provide users with detailed information about members of Congress—”their latest votes, legislation they support, and statistics about their voting.”

    As has become custom, on the anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts, J.K. Rowling said she was sorry for killing off one her her characters. “As promised, I shall apologise for a death. This year: Remus Lupin,” she wrote in a tweet. And then: “In the interest of total honesty I’d also like to confess that I didn’t decide to kill Lupin until I wrote Order of the Phoenix.”

    The latest installment (number 162) of the online literary magazine Bookslut—edited by The Dead Ladies Project author Jessa Crispin—has been published, and according to the homepage, it is the final issue.

  • May 2, 2016

    Dana Spiotta

    Dana Spiotta

    Former Grantland writer Jonathan Abrams—whose books include Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution—has announced that he is at work on an oral history of the TV show The Wire.

    Don DeLillo, whose Zero K was published last week, granted a rare interview to Los Angeles Times writer Carolyn Kellogg. “I’m not sure how a sentence or a paragraph extends itself,” he says of his writing. “I can’t say it’s automatic, but it all seems to happen in a kind of intuitive way.” If you’re in New York, you can see him live tonight: He will be making a rare appearance at the 92nd Street Y in New York, along with Innocents and Others author Dana Spiotta.

    Writers are celebrating the life and work of critic-memoirist-novelist Jenny Diski, who died last week. Kate Kellaway says that Diski “was a writer for whom no subject was taboo.” Laura Marsh points out: “Jenny Diski understood things about the world I grew up in that no one else seemed able to begin to explain: like Princess Diana…”

    In an interview with re/code, Jenna Wortham discusses her job as a technology and culture writer for the New York Times Magazine and explains why she thinks that Amazon Prime “is the devil.”

    Zachary Turpin, a doctoral student at the University of Houston, has found “a lost book, and a most unusual one, by Walt Whitman himself.” Published under the pseudonym Mose Velsor, he book is a thirteen-part guide to “manly training,” which teaches “the science of a sound and beautiful body,” and points out, among many other things, that a beard is “a great sanitary protection for the throat.” The guide is almost 50,000 words in its entirety, and you can read it all here.

    On the occasion of Saturday Night’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Critic Gene Seymour has written an appreciation of President Obama’s humor. “Take a picture,” he urges, “because we won’t be seeing this kind of high-quality presidential comedy again anytime soon.”

     

  • April 29, 2016

    The New York Times and its CEO Mark Thompson have been hit with a class-action lawsuit that alleges “deplorable discrimination” in matters of hiring and pay. Claiming that “not only does the Times have an ideal customer (young, white, wealthy), but also an ideal staffer (young, white, unencumbered with a family),” the suit takes particular aim at Thompson, who while head of the BBC was also forced to address concerns about the treatment of older women, and who is accused of bringing “his misogynistic and ageist attitudes across the Atlantic to New York City.”

    Claudia Rankine

    Claudia Rankine

    The poet Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen, will begin teaching English and African-American Studies at Yale this fall.

    This Saturday marks the third annual Independent Bookstore Day, which means among other things that Greenlight will be offering free doughnuts, and Community Bookstore in Park Slope will provide both Paul Auster and free beer.

    The Huffington Post seems a little less keen to run stories critical of Uber now that its editor in chief has joined the company’s board.

    It may come as no surprise that anonymous Wall Street blogs offer as frightening a work environment as Wall Street itself, as far as one can tell from the tale of Fight Club-themed finance site Zero Hedge.

    The Lahore Literary Festival will take place this weekend at the Asia Society in New York, including a Sunday morning roundtable on Pakistan’s literary scene in which Bapsi Sidhwa, Bilal Tanweer, Rafia Zakaria, and Tasneem Zehra Husain will be in conversation with Hugh Eakin.

  • April 28, 2016

    Jenny Diski

    Jenny Diski

    Writer Jenny Diski died this morning at the age of sixty-eight. She was the author of numerous books, including Skating to Antarctica: A Journey to the End of the World, The Sixties, and What I Don’t Know about Animals. Her book In Gratitude is scheduled for release later this month. Diski had been writing a cancer diary for the London Review of Books since 2014, when she learned of her diagnosis. The LRB has made all of her work for the magazine—more than two-hundred articles dating back to 1992—freely available. As Giles Harvey writes in his moving profile of Diski from last year, she was acutely aware of how difficult it is to talk about cancer without resorting to cliches, saying: “Under no circumstances is anyone to say that I lost a battle with cancer. Or that I bore it bravely. I am not fighting, losing, winning or bearing.” Of her decision to chronicle her life with the disease, Diski told Harvey: “Because I’m a writer, I could either shut up, that’s the end, get on with dying. Or, get gripped, which is what happened.”

    Joy Williams—author of, most recently, The Visiting Privilege: New and Selected Stories—has been named the winner of the 2016 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story. The award will be presented to her in December at a ceremony held at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

    What is your greatest fear? Being baked in a pie and eaten. Which living person do you most admire? The queen is okay.” The Proust Questionnaire with . . . William Shakespeare.

    Digiday’s new print magazine, Pulse, which will concern itself with the “modernization of media,” features a profile of Choire Sicha, who is, among other things, the cofounder of the Awl and the author of Very Recent History. Most recently, he started working for Vox Media, helping the company develop its relationship with platforms (such as Facebook). And Vox is growing fast: Its eight publications reached 62.5 million unique readers in February. Sicha is, in the words of former Awl publisher John Shankman, in a good position to help determine the quality of the material that is reaching all those people. “These aren’t really content organizations,” he says. “They’ve built the pipes. But ultimately the pipes are only interesting in what comes over them. He’s going to be able to influence what sort of stuff comes over them.”

    Leonard Riggio, the founder and executive chairman of Barnes and Noble Inc., has announced that he will retire in September. When Riggio bought the company in 1971, it consisted of a single store in Manhattan.

    Hilton Als (White Girls, The Women) has written a short essay on Prince, Cecil Taylor, Beyonce, and Octavia Butler.

    New Directions publisher Barbara Epler on literature in translation today: “There’s a huge generational shift toward interest in books from around the world. Maybe because we’ve fucked the world up, or because what’s going on in America right now isn’t so great, so you’ve got to look outwards when you’re faced with that. There are plenty of great English-language writers but by and large foreign fiction is more interesting, for me, and for many.”

  • April 27, 2016

    Rebecca Traister

    Rebecca Traister

    David Miscavige, the head of the Church of Scientology, is attempting to halt the publication of a memoir by his father, Ron Miscavige. The book, titled Ruthless, is slated to be published by St. Martin’s press on May 3. Ron was a longtime member of the Church, but has since left (he was, according to reports, spied on by the Church for eighteen months). According to Scientology expert Tony Ortega, St. Martin’s (and Ruthless’s UK publisher, Silvertail) has received a letter from David Miscavige’s lawyers, which states: “You are now on notice of the highly defamatory content of the subject book. In the event that you proceed … our client will be left with no alternative but to seek the protection of UK/Irish defamation and other laws. Accordingly, even at this late stage, we would urge you to reconsider your decision to proceed … [with] what clearly will be a totally unjustified, premeditated attack on our client’s reputation and character.”

    Paramount Television has purchased the rights to adapt Rebecca Traister’s book All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, which was published in March by Simon & Schuster. Traister will be the TV series’s executive producer.

    Longreads has posted an interview with Jillian Keenan, whose new book, Sex with Shakespeare, combines meditations on her love of the Bard with memoiristic passages about the fetish community and her penchant for spanking.

    The New Republic has named Eric Bates as the editor who will “lead the day-to-day editorial operations across the magazine, our website and all related platforms.” (Win McCormack, who recently purchased the magazine, will remain the Editor in Chief.) Bates has been an editor at Rolling Stone and Mother Jones, and in 2014 helped launch The Intercept, the website cofounded by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill.

    For the second year in a row, the Hugo Awards, which celebrates the best science-fiction of the year, has been dominated by two right-wing groups, known as the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies movements, both of whom have been vehemently working against what they see as a “leftwing bias” in the genre. The two groups have successfully campaigned to place many of their own titles on the shortlist, which was announced yesterday. That means this year’s shortlist includes “SJWs Always Lie, an essay about ‘social justice warriors’ by Rabid Puppies campaign leader Vox Day; a self-published parody of erotic dinosaur fiction called Space Raptor Butt Invasion, by Chuck Tingle; and My Little Pony cartoon The Cutie Map.”

    Adam Kirsch and Zoe Heller ponder the question: “Can a book with bad politics be a good book?

  • April 26, 2016

    Gannett, the conglomerate that owns USA Today and many other media companies, has submitted a bid for $815 million to buy Tribune Publishing, which owns the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and nine other daily papers. According to the New York Times, Tribune has been “shy”  and “coy” in its response to the bid. As Andrew Ross Sorkin writes, “Instead of Tribune’s board popping champagne corks and shouting Hallelujah, it told Gannett, astonishingly, in effect: ‘Wait. We’re not sure we want to do that and, actually, we’re not sure we even want to talk to you about it.’”   

    Today in Paris, New York Times management is planning to meet with union members. The Paris office staff fear the worst, as the New York Post quotes one source: “A lot of people are anxious. . . .  People are worried they are going to close it.” A few days ago, the Post also reported that the Times is planning to lay off a few hundred employees, quoting a disquieting memo sent earlier this year by executive editor Dean Baquet: “Simply put, we keep turning things on—greater visual journalism, live news blogs, faster enterprise, podcasting, racing against an ever-growing list of new competitors on an expanding list of stories—without ever turning things off.”  

    Harper Lee

    Harper Lee

    A previously unknown article by Harper Lee has been discovered. Lee, who worked as Truman Capote’s research assistant on In Cold Blood, wrote her own story about the murder case in an unsigned piece for The Grapevine, a magazine for former FBI agents. The essay was discovered by Lee biographer Charles J Shields, when he stumbled on this note in a newspaper column by one of Lee’s friends: “Nelle Harper Lee, young writer who came to Garden City with Truman Capote to gather material for a New Yorker magazine article on the Clutter case, wrote the piece. Miss Harper’s first novel is due for publication . . . this spring and advance reports say it is bound to be a success.”

    The novelists (and literary power couple) Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman have been researching a book of essays they are to edit that will mark fifty years of Israeli occupation. As their twenty-two other contributors will do over the coming months, the two have been visiting the occupied territories to get a better sense of the everyday lives of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. During the couple’s trip, The Forward interviewed Chabon, whose comic noir novel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is probably the closest he has come to addressing Israel in his work to date. What a creative writer has to offer in such situations, he says, “is an overt point of view that doesn’t try to hide itself the way journalists are trained to be objective and conceal their biases and just ‘present the facts.’” Chabon has now made his position on the occupation very clear: “It is the most grievous injustice I have ever seen in my life. I have seen bad things in my own country, in America. There is plenty of horrifying injustice in the U.S. prison system, the ‘second Jim Crow,’ it is often called. Our drug laws in the United States are grotesquely unjust. I know to some degree what I am talking about. This is the worst thing I have ever seen, just purely in terms of injustice. If saying that is going to lose me readers, I don’t want those readers. They can go away and never come back.”

    The Hollywood Reporter has a story about the Los Angeles Review of Books in which the likes of Cameron Diaz and Mad Men creator Matt Weiner enthuse about the literary journal. But while Weiner sings its praises for being “a little bit renegade” and having “a little bit of ‘f— you’,” Michael Tolkin—who wrote Robert Altman’s The Player and thus, incidentally, gave the world its clearest sense of how to pitch a Hollywood movie (Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman!)—sees it very differently. “LARB is much more interested in finding people who are enthusiastic about the writing they’re looking at than the takedown,” Tolkin is quoted as saying, before adding, “That’s an East Coast device, not a West Coast device.” We’d consider saying something scathing about that, but we don’t want to play to coastal type.

     

  • April 25, 2016

    Marlon James

    Marlon James

    In New York, the PEN World Voices Festival opens tonight with an event titled “The Drug Edition,” which will look at “our society’s need for mind-altering drugs and the all-too-human desire to escape reality.” Participants include Marlon James, Anne Enright, and Paul Muldoon. You can find the full schedule of events here.

    Today, former Grantland staffers Andy Greenwald (author of Nothing Feels Good) and Chris Ryan (Lethal Weapon) will launch their new podcast about Game of Thrones (the TV show) at Channel 33, the podcast network of Bill Simmons’s eagerly anticipated site The Ringer.

    After the New York primaries last week, a website with the Huffington Post banner ran a piece with the headline “Sanders Supporters in New York See their Votes Switched to Hillary.” But it wasn’t actually the Huffington Post. Snopes reports on the hoax.

    Novelist Daniel Kehlmann (author of the book F) talks with scholar Michael Maar about a series of similarities between Vladimir Nabokov’s work and a book by a now forgotten writer named Heinz von Lichberg. It’s not plagiarism, notes Maar, but probably a series of elaborate inside jokes, which Maar is attempting (with the help of Nabokov’s recently published Letters to Vera) to figure out.

    At Medium, Jotham Sederstrom, an editor at the Daily News, took full responsibility for the instances of plagiarism found in the recent work of columnist Shaun King, which surfaced last week after the Daily Beast noted that one of its own articles had been quoted without attribution by King. Says Sederstrom: “In all honesty, the controversy — a fuck up on my part, to put it bluntly — comes down to two unintentional, albeit inexcusable, instances of sloppy editing on my part and a formatting glitch that until Tuesday I had no idea was systematically stripping out large blocks of indented quotations each time I moved Shaun’s copy from an email to The News’ own Content Management System, or ‘CMS’ as it’s called in media parlance.” Gawker provides more evidence that King originally cited his sources and that the attributions were removed in the editing process. Sederstrom has since been  fired. His apology on Medium gives an overwhelming sense of how increased workload and office pace can threaten journalistic standards.

    Last week, the gossip site TMZ broke the news of Prince’s death more than fifteen minutes before any other news organization would confirm it. The Washington Post points out what it calls a paradox: “Although [TMZ] has been quite reliable on many major stories, mainstream news sources are reluctant to rely on its say-so alone.” But this doesn’t seem like a paradox so much as a difference in approach and standards. Being more than “quite reliable” takes a little more time (and often a verified source).

    Authors Rob Sheffield (Love Is a Mix Tape), Michaelangelo Matos (The Underground Is Massive), and Carl Wilson (Let’s Talk about Love) celebrate the genius of Prince.

  • April 22, 2016

    Prince

    Prince

    At the Washington Post, Alyssa Rosenberg mourns the loss of Prince, who died yesterday aged fifty-seven, and cites his 2007 appearance at the Super Bowl, “this particular worship service dedicated to traditional masculinity,” as an argument for “a vastly huger range of possible ways for a man to command the nation.” Rosenberg also reminds us of Hilton Als’s great “paean 2 Prince,” from a 2012 issue of Harper’s. It’s not yet clear how far the star had gotten with his memoir, which he’d recently announced he was writing with the help of the Paris Review’s Dan Piepenbring (“a good critic. . . . Not a yes man”), but TMZ suggests there are at least fifty pages.

    Richard Brody surveys the movie criticism of the underground legend Jonas Mekas on the New Cinema, recently reissued by Columbia University Press: “Some of the greatest pages in the book aren’t film criticism but reporting, on the tight and persecutorial reign of censorship that prevailed in New York, even in the nineteen-sixties. The most affecting passages detail those hardships—the poverty that many of the filmmakers he knew, and that he himself, bore, and the legal trouble that some of them, and that Mekas himself, faced as a result of New York’s, and the federal government’s, stringent enforcement of censorship laws.”

    At Slate, Helaine Olen identifies a much-discussed essay in The Atlantic by film critic and historian Neal Gabler (on middle-class American poverty, including his own) as part of a familiar and dubious genre: “All the sad, broke literary men.”

    Tonight, n+1 launches its new issue with a party at Signal Gallery in Brooklyn.

  • April 21, 2016

    The winners of this year’s Lambda Literary Awards, which honor excellence in LGBT literature, include Eileen Myles and Hilton Als. At the June 6th ceremony, winners in twenty-five categories will be announced by a stellar cast of writers, performers, and activists including actor Cherry Jones (who played a Myles-like character on Transparent), editor Tavi Gevinson, comedienne Kate Clinton, and many other stars.    

    Bret Easton Ellis

    Bret Easton Ellis

    The New York Times accompanied Bret Easton Ellis on a night out to see the Broadway musical version of his novel American Psycho. After some initial trepidation, Ellis appeared to enjoy the show, as the paper describes: “Pretty soon, Mr. Ellis was reveling in the punch lines, most of them lifted straight out of the book, and silently congratulating himself, thinking, ‘That’s mine, that’s mine,’ he said later.” Still, Ellis doesn’t want to seem too gratified that his controversial novel—with its laugh lines at Trump’s expense—has found unexpected resonance twenty-five years after it was first published: “Vindicated is too strong a word, because that would mean that I care too much. . . I would say, I’m mildly surprised.”

    At Page Turner, Joshua Rothman considers the fifth and penultimate volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle (out this week), using its publication as an opportunity to look back on the project. Rothman notes that one of Knausgaard’s preoccupations across the series has been “auditioning routes to freedom” that never really pan out, including music, drinking, and sex. In the fifth volume, we see Knausgaard finally finding something that frees him from his abiding sense of being trapped—a selfless way of writing that explores what the novelist has called the space between reality and ideas. This is what’s so mesmerizing about the novel, Rothman writes, arguing that the author doesn’t quite fit the “solipsistic” label that’s so often applied to him: “Knausgaard writes beautifully about landscapes, and he describes his inner life the way he describes a landscape, simply noting, with tender exactness, what is there. . . . The inner and outer landscapes are united. He’s invented a new kind of narration: he chronicles the minute details of his own existence, but not from the perspective of himself.”

    The pathologically modest critic Michael Dirda bemoans the plainness of his own prose style: “I have no flair for similes and metaphors,” he writes. “Nothing ever reminds me of anything else.” Dirda revels in some of the discoveries to be made in Farnsworth’s Classical English Metaphor, from the simple but devastating (from the novelist Ouida: “Moralists say that a soul should resist passion. They might as well say that a house should resist an earthquake”) to the bizarre and unforgettable:Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once compared human existence to an unlikely vegetable: ‘I wax impatient sometimes to think of how much time it takes to do a little fragment of what one would like to do and dreams of. Life is like an artichoke; each day, week, month, year, gives you one little bit which you nibble off — but precious little compared to what you throw away.’”

    From Duke University Press comes a definitive new series of the writings of Stuart Hall, a founding member of the British New Left and one of the twentieth century’s greatest cultural theorists. Alongside edited volumes on themes from race to popular culture to photography, the series will include the first US edition of Hall’s memoir, Displacements: Lives and Ideas in Two Black Diasporas, due out next year. The first volume in the series will be published this October, but in the meanwhile, you may want to watch John Akomfrah’s moving tribute to Hall, which is full of fascinating archival footage.

    Tonight at McNally Jackson, Dan Fox, Asad Raza, and Christian Lorentzen will celebrate pretentiousness, in honor of Fox’s new book on the subject. Pretentiousness is, Lorentzen says in his review, “something I crave, in myself and others. Authenticity is overrated — give me a perfectly struck pose.”

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