• February 5, 2016

    New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet has sent staffers a memo announcing a fairly major overhaul, including cuts in the newsroom and elsewhere: “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,” he writes. From now on, “everything we do must either be part of [our] mission or help generate the revenue to sustain our journalistic dominance.” The Awl has a bracing graph of the Times’s revenue relative to its operating costs over the past decade, and notes that “between this and Condé Nast and Hearst spinning off their print services into an easily disposable joint venture, sounds like 2016 is off to a great start for print media!”

    Sarah Koenig

    Sarah Koenig

    This week, the Serial podcast has leapt from a leisurely bi-weekly schedule to daily updates, as Sarah Koenig attends a hearing in Baltimore at which Adnan Syed’s lawyer is using new evidence to argue that his murder conviction should be overturned. Today’s episode follows the testimony of Asia McClain, a potential alibi for Syed who was never called to testify at his original trial.

    We’ve always said that editing was important, and now look: The drama of the presidential primaries is being played out partly on Wikipedia.

    A new literary review, the Chicago Review of Books, has been set up with the aim of “cultivating awareness of diverse voices, settings, genres, and ideas.”

    Gawker has a piece on what you might call the personal essay–industrial complex, and more specifically, a quite striking “identity survey” that the women’s website Bustle apparently sends to its new writers, which includes detailed questions about mental and physical health, family relationships, sexual history, drug use, and experiences of abuse or assault.

    Remember hypertext fiction, and that moment when it seemed as if it might threaten the printed book? Now it seems some brave souls are giving that another go, creating experimental digital fiction for anyone who feels they’re not getting enough quality time with their phone.

    Book reviewers have always had a good line in backhanded compliments, but this piece, congratulating its subject on his derring-do in writing a novel so much worse than his previous fiction, may set a new record.

  • February 4, 2016

    trialNext Friday, February 12, Bookforum will host a Valentine’s reading at the New Museum. “Trial and Error,” a tribute to love’s vicissitudes (in previous years we’ve named it “Bad Trips,” “Wasted Youth,” and “The Night We Called it a Day”), will feature readings by Mary Gaitskill, Vivian Gornick, Patricia Marx, A. O. Scott, and Christopher Sorrentino.

    No one seems quite ready to believe that Amazon now plans to open hundreds of physical bookstores, but if you’re on the west coast, weren’t put off by that New York Times story, and have the ability to lift 50 lbs,” you might just have a shot at a job.

    And it seems fair, or at least tempting, to say that you could do a lot worse (both professionally and in terms of reading material).

    Alexander Chee writes in the New Republic about the odd status of the historical novel, from War and Peace—which “holds a strange place in literary history, participating in the crowning of realism as a substantial and serious literary mode in America, even as the novel also contributed to the argument that historical fiction could be by nature dangerous, illegitimate, and inaccurate”—to Hilary Mantel’s tour de force of the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety, which she was initially unable to publish, to the “trepidation” in friends’ eyes when he described his own second novel, “as if I had announced that I was giving up years of hard work writing literary fiction to sell out and become a hack.” And the Rumpus interviews Chee about that novel, The Queen of the Night, “structured like a five act opera,” and how, while writing it,I often thought I was losing my mind, or that I’d done something that would kill me before I finished it.”

    Now that Tina Fey has signed a deal with Universal Pictures to make a movie based on a Good Housekeeping article, we can’t help wondering whether or not writers there are bound by New Yorker–style rules about such things.

    As primary season rolls on, you may want to refamiliarize yourself with our editor Chris Lehmann’s thoughts on the Republican field (sans Trump).

  • February 3, 2016

    Christopher Cox

    Christopher Cox

    Christopher Cox, who was promoted to editor in chief of Harper’s just three months ago, has been abruptly fired by the publisher and president, John R. MacArthur, seemingly over Cox’s support of a plan to redesign the magazine’s cover. The rest of the staff reportedly opposed the firing of Cox, who has done great work in his several years at the magazine. Roger D. Hodge, a previous editor of Harper’s who was fired in 2010 after a four-year tenure, told the New York Times that he too had had conflict with MacArthur over editorial matters, and that he warned Cox when he took the job “that he should expect to get fired eventually, but that he would probably have a few good years.”

    In the Guardian, Pankaj Mishra has a biting account of the situation for writers in Narendra Modi’s India, where the novelist Arundhati Roy is now facing trial for “contempt of court.” Mishra vividly describes the ways in which “the suppression of artists and intellectuals in a formal democracy such as India manifests itself in many interlocking patterns.”

    The Awl reports rumors that Gawker’s editorial union will be staging a two-hour walk-out one day next week in protest at the management’s refusal to offer cost-of-living salary increases. All the Gawker sites are expected to go dark during the staffers’ absence.

    The Atlantic won Magazine of the Year at the Ellies on Monday night, and Kathryn Schulz, a poet of the present and future tenses, took the prize for feature writing for her truly frightening New Yorker piece, “The Really Big One.

    Ten thousand copies of a very real-looking parody supplement to the New York Times were handed out to New York commuters yesterday (including outside the Times building itself). It critiques the Times’s Israel/Palestine coverage and announces a “new editorial policy.”

  • February 2, 2016

    If you can take your eyes off the surprising results from last night’s Iowa caucuses, there is a new issue of Bookforum online.

    Ahead of the shut-down, Al Jazeera America staffers have set up a portfolio site, where you can find an impressive array of their best work.

    book-seidel-oogaboogaThe New Yorker has a review of Frederick Seidel’s new book of “suave and vengeful” poems: “If the id had an id, and it wrote poetry, the results might sound like Widening Income Inequality (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Frederick Seidel’s sixteenth collection. . . .  American poets like to think of their art as open, democratic, all-­embracing; few aside from Seidel have imagined the lyric poem to be an exclusive haunt of self-flattering, hedonistic élites. Seidel is securely on the winner’s side of the widening wealth gap; the implication, if we’re reading him, is that so are we.”

    Tobi Haslett has published an intriguing conversation with Margo Jefferson in Bomb, about Negroland and much besides: “Sometimes I look at myself on tape,” she says, “and I think, ‘Ugh, God, that perfect diction.’ It’s natural to me—but oh it’s just so pristine. You know? It’s strange to keep confronting, in these stylistic ways, how you were constructed. What you were constructed to be in the world.”

    And, as he publishes his second novel, The Queen of the Night, fifteen years after his first, Alexander Chee tells The Millions exactly what his writing life is like.

    Meanwhile, Sarah Manguso’s exploration of writerly envy is a welcome tonic.

  • February 1, 2016

    Simon & Schuster’s imprint Gallery Books has announced that it will publish a new biography of David Bowie by Paul Morley, who recently helped Grace Jones with her recent book I’ll Never Write My Memoirs. Morley’s book, The Age of Bowie, is scheduled to appear late this year.

    MTV News has been on a hiring spree—earlier in January, the company brought in five former employees of Grantland, the ESPN-owned sports and pop-culture website that closed its doors late last year. Now, in an effort to boost its political coverage, MTV has hired author and Wonkette founder Ana Marie Cox and New York Magazine columnist Jaime Fuller.

    Stephen King has awarded the Guardian’s Short Story Prize to Elodie Harper, a reporter whose submission, “Wild Swimming,” is “a sinister tale set around a reservoir in Lithuania.”

    Meredith Wild

    Meredith Wild

    Meredith Wild, who sold millions of her self-published romance novels, has started an imprint called Waterhouse, which, according to the New York Times, “is off to a promising start.” Many authors-turned-publishers are thriving, the article says, because they know how to market books that fail to stand out in the crowded world of self-publishing. “The self-publishing ecosystem has become oversaturated,” the article points out. “Amazon has more than four million e-books in its Kindle store, up from 600,000 six years ago, making it harder for new authors to find an audience.”

    Hilary Mantel explains why you should read the under-sung novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard.

    David Granger is leaving his position as the EIC of Esquire after nineteen years in the position. He will remain an editorial director at the magazine. His replacement is Town and Country’s Jay Fielden.  

  • January 29, 2016

    As if primary season weren’t providing enough drama, that Washington institution Politico, in what has been described as “a mega-cataclysm,” is to lose Jim VandeHei, its cofounder and CEO, Mike Allen, its chief White House correspondent and the man behind its widely read morning Playbook, and three other senior staff members. VandeHei and Allen plan to start their own new venture.

    Meanwhile, last night’s Trumpless Republican debate saw quite a few attacks on Hillary Clinton, currently locked in an unexpectedly tight race for Iowa with Bernie Sanders, whose campaign has been upending the conventional wisdom among Democrats.

    cahiersFrench New Wave director and critic Jacques Rivette, who made landmark films such as Paris nous appartient and the Jamesian fantasy Céline and Julie Go Boating, and edited Cahiers du Cinéma in the mid-1960s, has died at the age of 87.

    The New Yorker’s Page Turner has a piece about South Korea’s Nobel Prize in Literature deficit and the country’s efforts to do something about it. The piece quotes an English professor there who runs a website about Korean literature and explains that if the great hope Ko Un, the octogenarian poet and Buddhist monk once imprisoned for pro-democracy activism, doesn’t land the prize, it may never happen, because of the Swedish Academy’s particular tastes: “They far prefer males. They prefer older people because they don’t want you to change your political beliefs. They prefer political heroes, people who stood up for something and who risked life and limb. And, of course, Ko Un qualifies for all of that. You drop under him and there’s at least a twenty-year hiatus where, if there is that author, I’m not aware.”

    A former student of Saul Bellow’s, who recalls “the pleasant disorientation of watching Augie March teach Nathan Zuckerman,” has published the last interview with him, complete with video footage.

  • January 28, 2016

    If the work of Franco Moretti so far represents the limit of your understanding of the statistical analysis of literature, get ready for the denizens of Poland’s Institute of Nuclear Physics, who have been busy discovering fractals and multifractals in most of our major works. Though, perhaps a little churlishly, they note that the “fractality of a literary text will in practice never be as perfect as in the world of mathematics.”

    The Washington news director for Bloomberg Politics, Kathy Kiely, has resigned because she feels the company would be severely hampered in any serious attempt to cover a presidential run by its multibillionaire owner Michael Bloomberg: “You can’t cover the circus,” she pointed out, “unless you can write about one of the biggest elephants in the room.”

    The Intercept wonders whether The Onion will tone down its Hillary Clinton coverage now that her “biggest fan and financial supporter” effectively has a controlling stake in it.

    Rebekah Brooks

    Rebekah Brooks

    And here’s yet another heartwarming media tale: Rebekah Brooks, back at the helm of Rupert Murdoch’s British operation after losing a few years to the vast phone-hacking scandal, has now appointed Angus McBride, the lawyer who managed to get her cleared of all criminal charges, as in-house counsel for News UK. It’s unusual, of course, for a criminal defense lawyer (apparently one of Britain’s best) to take on such a role at a company—but, to each according to his need.

    It’s really a shame for those sharing this kind of news on Facebook that Reactions, the new “like” button that will “expand the range of Facebook-compatible human emotions from one to six,” isn’t quite ready yet.

    Powerhouse Books is being sued by the New York Times over its use of cover images for David Shields’s War Is Beautiful, a book that attacks the Times’s aestheticized war photography, and it seems the publisher is now suing Shields himself. Several people have criticized the Times’s decision to bring this lawsuit (or “hissy fit,” as one law professor described it). And they’re not the only ones questioning the paper’s priorities: Its public editor has written disapprovingly about news going underreported when “enough Times firepower somehow has been found to document Hillary Clinton’s every sneeze, Donald Trump’s latest bombast, and Marco Rubio’s shiny boots.”  

    Still, we’re glad the Times found room for the story of the windmill-tilting theater director who has coaxed Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (“It would take 45 minutes,” he points out, “just to explain what the novel is about”) into a five-hour stage play.

    Meanwhile, the latest translation by Natasha Wimmer, the translator of 2666 who has become, the Times notes, “something of a tastemaker in contemporary Latin American literature,” is of Sudden Death, a novel by the prizewinning Mexican writer Álvaro Enrigue in which Caravaggio and Quevedo play tennis with a ball made from the hair of the executed Anne Boleyn. Asked about the book’s period setting, Enrigue, who notes that he’s spent the last few years (turbulent ones for Mexico) in the “protective womb” of New York City, said: “We live in a world that demands explanation. And fiction has the capability to offer explanations for things. I work with history because I come from a country that has a tremendous thirst for reality. It is desperate to understand what the hell happened in recent years.” Tonight at the New York Public Library, Enrigue will be in conversation with Rivka Galchen.

  • January 27, 2016

    While Arianna Huffington may no longer be treating Donald Trump’s campaign as more entertainment than politics, Trump himself evidently does view it as a media story. Announcing that he planned to skip Thursday’s Republican debate after a stand-off with Fox News (over the network’s refusal to replace Megyn Kelly as moderator), he said: “Let’s see how much money Fox is going to make on the debate without me.”

    Much to everyone’s chagrin, it seems that David Bowie had better things to do than write his memoirs.

    James Fenimore Cooper

    James Fenimore Cooper

    Today Library of America launches a new twice-monthly column, The Moviegoer, that celebrates films based on classic American literature. First up is a piece on Michael Mann’s The Last of The Mohicans by Michael Sragow, who quotes the director calling James Fenimore Cooper’s book “a whitewash of land grabs and cultural imperialism.” Mann, Sragow writes, “thinks that he has turned his back on Cooper. What he’s really done, perhaps, is to liberate Cooper from himself.” There are columns to come on The Age of Innocence, The Maltese Falcon, The Innocents (the 1961 adaptation of Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw”), and one by the writer Harold Schechter about true crime in American cinema.

    New York has a profile of Jim Rich, editor-in-chief of the Daily News, that discusses the newfound popularity of its front page: “We don’t shy away from the controversial issue,” Rich says. “You’ve seen publications on the right, but there’s a vacuum on the middle left on these issues, a consistent, strong voice, and I like to think we’re doing a decent job of filling that void.” The piece also notes that the News is now selling prints of its covers, and that if all else fails, that might be one way a tabloid paper could hope to stay in business.

    An unfinished Beatrix Potter story, “The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots,” will be published later this year, complete with angular drawings by Quentin Blake, best known for his work as Roald Dahl’s illustrator.

    And, a still more adorable development: For the more adventurous Jane Austen fan, Hot Topic apparently has a new clothing and lingerie line inspired by the soon-to-be-released Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

  • January 26, 2016

    Few things are more pleasing than when the news delivers the kind of twist we expect from a best seller: Congratulations to Planned Parenthood, after a grand jury declined to indict anyone from the organization, choosing instead to bring charges against the members of an anti-abortion group who had attempted to entrap them.

    The group that owns The Guardian, whose financial position turns out to be much weaker than it previously appeared, has announced that it will slash its budget by 20 percent in order to stop losing money within the next three years. It will also, apparently, “align editorial and commercial operations to harness higher-growth membership and digital opportunities.

    Tense usage in Ellie award winners, Burt Helm and Max Chafkin

    Tense usage in Ellie award winners, Burt Helm and Max Chafkin

    Burt Helm and Max Chafkin of the Rewrite podcast have made an only glancingly scientific but still delightful study of what it takes to win a National Magazine Award, complete with a data-driven prediction for next week’s winner. Too late, this time around, for aspirants to make use of their analysis of the ideal length, tense (they demonstrate, with the help of a handsome pie-chart, that “the present tense appears to be going out of style”), month of publication, or number and type of swear words. But there’s always next year.

    There have been continued attempts to cut down this year’s to-read list into something a little more manageable: Bomb asked a few writers (including John Keene, Justin Taylor and Dawn Lundy Martin) which books they’re most looking forward to, and Wired expressed excitement about just ten forthcoming titles, including novels by Don DeLillo, Dana Spiotta, and Alexander Chee, as well as nonfiction by Roxane Gay and Bookforum co-editor Chris Lehmann.  

    The Torist, the dark web’s first literary magazine, launched this past weekend, and its editors hope among other things “to swim against the current popular conceptions of anonymity and encryption.”

    Tomorrow evening you may want to head to BookCourt and hear Garth Greenwell in conversation with Hilton Als. If, that is, you’re not committed to being named the Ultimate Bibliophile at the Strand’s “uniquely competitive” literary trivia night.

  • January 25, 2016

    Rachel Kushner

    Rachel Kushner

    Jeff Feuerzeig’s documentary Author: The Real JT Leroy Story had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, and Amazon quickly acquired the film over the weekend. Laura Albert, the woman who pretended to be Leroy (and fooled a lot of people), attended the premiere, and told the audience that she is (surprise) working on a memoir.

    The New York Times has now been publishing online content for twenty years.

    Janet Malcolm does not think much of Jonathan Bate’s biography of Ted Hughes. Malcolm—who has written brilliantly about psychoanalysis and about Hughes and his wife, Sylvia Plath—eloquently describes the peculiar hostilities running through Bate’s book: “Bate wants to cut Hughes down to size and does so, interestingly, by blowing him up into a kind of extra-large sex maniac.” Later, she points out, “Bate’s cluelessness about what you can and cannot do if you want to be regarded as an honest and serious writer.”

    Phyllis Nagy, who wrote the screenplay for Todd Haynes’s Carol, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, is creating a new series based on Rachel Kushner’s first novel, Telex from Cuba.

    At Bookforum, ex-Mormon horror writer Brian Evenson, discusses his new book, the brutality of his stories, and how he plays tricks on his audience: “You, as a reader, don’t really know what’s happening until it’s quite a bit too late…”

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