• November 25, 2015

    John Oliver

    John Oliver

    Thanksgiving week seems an especially appropriate time to think about citizenship (e.g. Sarah Matthews on what it takes to get a green card), statelessness (e.g. an interview with Atossa Araxia Abrahamian about her intriguing new book The Cosmopolites), migration, and refugees. The last word should perhaps go to John Oliver, from his final show of the year, this past weekend: “Every generation has had its own ugly reaction to refugees, whether they are the Irish, the Vietnamese, the Cubans or the Haitians, and those fears have been broadly unfounded. In fact there was only one time in American history when the fear of refugees wiping everyone out did actually come true—and we’ll all be sitting around a table celebrating it on Thursday.”

    Meanwhile, not much turkey-pardoning going on at the LA Times.

    For Jacobin, Grey Anderson traces the history of the “state of emergency” in France.

    Pope Francis’s Italian publishers have just released the cover for what’s being billed as the first book of his papacy (but tell that to Melville House or, for that matter, Verso).

    Newly nicer Gawker thinks its newfound rivals on the political beat (like Mike Allen of Politico) are a little too nice, especially to the great and good.

    Miranda July is interviewed in The Believer, about, among other things, The First Bad Man, her first novel: “I have kind of a resistance to people who talk about their ‘practice’ and who are just so professional. Someone like Lydia Davis is as much of an insider as you could be in, like, the literary world, and yet her work maintains this outsider quality, so that when you read it you get a hint of, Oh right, there’s not any rules. You could do anything and call it your work. I’m drawn to that quality in children, nonartists, and really great established artists.”

    And talk of firsts reminds us of one of the more heartwarming things to have appeared on the internet recently, Donald Antrim discussing his own first novel, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World.  

  • November 24, 2015

    In a preview from the next issue of Bookforum, Jeff Sharlet writes about “imperial joking” and the November 13 attacks in Paris.

    Susan Sontag

    Susan Sontag

    And on n+1’s website, Pankaj Mishra powerfully echoes Susan Sontag’s plea from September 2001: “Let’s by all means grieve together, but let’s not be stupid together.”

    The writer Claire Vaye Watkins has an essay (originally a lecture) on literary misogyny, pandering, and “punching up.”

    The artist and actress Adele Mailer (née Morales) died on Sunday, age ninety. A New York Times obituary quotes from her memoir: “I decided I was going to be that beautiful temptress who ate men alive, flossed her teeth and spit out the bones, wearing an endless supply of costumes by Frederick’s of Hollywood.” It also notes, of the infamous night in 1960 when her then husband Norman Mailer stabbed her with a penknife at a party, that “Some guests recalled that the point of no return came when she told her husband that he was not as good as Dostoyevsky.”  

    As we move into the holiday season, everybody’s doing what they can. Glenn Greenwald is trying to make CNN better . . .

    . . . And Donald Trump is doing his bit for poetry. (Plus, he even seems to be trying to ensure that you won’t have to see so much Trump in the press.)

    Journalists may get to see themselves represented at the movies and on high-end TV almost as often as cops or doctors, but the humble book publisher must take what he or she can get.

    You may have missed this heartfelt tribute to one of the internet’s most devoted David Foster Wallace fans, the redditor jeremy1122: “Eventually, he comes to expose the weird insulation and monomania of reading itself—a motif worthy of a Jorge Luis Borges or Enrique Vila-Matas.”

  • November 23, 2015

    Patricia Highsmith

    Patricia Highsmith

    David Remnick reports on the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, “a kind of underground journalistic-activist enterprise that, under the threat of grisly execution, smuggles images and reports on ISIS from Raqqa to its allies abroad.”

    Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy discusses her screenplay for Todd Haynes’s Carol, his new adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 “cult lesbian classic” The Price of Salt. How did Highsmith “get to the fundamentals of love?” Says Nagy: “Part of this is Pat Highsmith’s own peculiar psyche, which was obsessional. All the great novels about love—Madame Bovary, all sorts of things like that—are really obsessional. I mean that in the largest sense possible. There are elements of The Price of Salt that are fairly stalker-esque, which fits in very nicely with Pat’s general body of work.”

    Asked by the New York Times which three writers she would invite to a dinner party, Mary Gaitskill remarks: “Three writers together would be a nightmare of obstreperous self-consciousness. Somewhere in heaven I can visualize Nabokov and Woolf deep in illuminating conversation or bonding over a celestial game of something.”

    Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., poet and critic Stephen Burt (Close Calls with Nonsense) will be the first participant in the National Book Critics Circle’s new series of literary talks, “Making the Case,” which will address the role of criticism in contemporary culture.  

    The New Yorker has started a new, online-only feature titled New Yorker Novella, which will showcase longform fiction. The first piece is “In Hindsight,” by Callan Wink.

  • November 20, 2015

    Michel Houellebecq

    Michel Houellebecq

    Michel Houellebecq (whose novel Submission is reviewed in a forthcoming issue of Bookforum) has weighed in on the situation in France with a rather strange op-ed.

    Turns out writers of literary fiction can still get rich! Just only a few of them at a time. The Wall Street Journal blames that catch-all villain social media: “Sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads have contributed to a culture in which everyone reads—and tells their friends about—the same handful of books a year. It’s increasingly a winner-take-all economy, publishing executives say.” (And note that if you get a still-huge-but-less-so book advance, it may not last you as long as you’d think.)

    Especially important to make sure that publishing that novel will be worth your while if you’re going to put people you know into it: “It’s a violent thing to do,” Karl Ove Knausgaard noted recently. “It’s taking something from them. I didn’t realize how powerful writing is. It fixes something in place, and it’s always a reduction. My mother is treated very well in the books, but she was angry, it’s so hard to be reduced.”

    It looks as if journalists at the Financial Times will soon go on strike.

    New Yorkers, isn’t there something pleasingly perverse about the idea of traveling all the way to Miami for a book fair? You could even hear Brooklyn’s beloved Ben Lerner speak out there in the sunshine. Go!

    Or if you’d rather stay closer to home, Todd Haynes’s Carol, based on the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, opens this weekend.

  • November 19, 2015

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Ta-Nehisi Coates

    The National Book Award last night went to Adam Johnson for his story collection Fortune Smiles, and to the seemingly unstoppable Ta-Nehisi Coates, MacArthur Genius, for Between the World and Me.  

    Meanwhile, what Toni Morrison did for Coates, CNN’s Don Lemon is happy to do for himself: If he weren’t a journalist, he tells Ana Marie Cox, he’d “probably be a writer like James Baldwin.” (Or failing that, an activist: “But not like Dr. King, even though I admire him. I’d probably be more of a Malcolm X. I believe the best way to improve yourself is to improve yourself.”)

    Roundup season is in full swing, but alongside this year’s best-of lists, you may want to consult these: the tri-state area’s richest writers and, inspired by Esquire, Rebecca Solnit’s not-to-read list for women.

    Just try enjoying this week’s New Yorker now that you know David Remnick thinks he’s too cool to play a Katy Perry song in public.

    (That said, it’s still very much worth reading Raffi Khatchadourian’s AI piece.)

    Yet more on the changes at Gawker, plus a word from Wonkette.

    Thanks to George Saunders, the Wall Street Journal book club will be reading Tolstoy’s brilliant and not-read-enough Hadji Murad.

  • November 18, 2015

    It seems to make sense to give Don DeLillo a medal, so tonight at Cipriani, the National Book Foundation plans to go ahead and do that.

    Erica Jong

    Erica Jong

    The shortlist for the UK’s annual Bad Sex in Fiction award has been announced: Several American writers made it, including Erica Jong, Lauren Groff, and Joshua Cohen, as well as, for the first time, an author published by Penguin Classics (though, admittedly, that author is Morrissey, for his first novel). Call Me Dave, the biography of David Cameron that spawned the #piggate scandal, lost out for what the judges called “insufficient literary brio” (fans of Jonathan Coe’s What A Carve Up! will recall the fateful printing error by which its protagonist derided a nemesis’s book for lacking “the necessary biro”).

    Pity Germaine Greer. What’s more embarrassing than having one of your (very long) old love letters found and published without your consent? Answer: When the letter is to Martin Amis.

    This really does seem to be the end of Gawker as we know it: it’s abandoning New York media gossip to cover politics. Oh, and quite a few people have been fired (in more or less the professional equivalent of breaking up with someone via text).

    Presumably on the theory that a spoonful of sugar makes the wonkish medicine go down, legal scholar and former White House official Cass Sunstein is writing a book about Star Wars, due sometime around May 4th.

    You can still just about catch the “mobile opera” Hopscotch, taking place along different routes around LA this month. It’s named after the episodic Julio Cortázar novel, and was to be based on it, except that the author’s estate refused permission.

  • November 17, 2015

    Judith Butler

    Judith Butler

    As President Francois Hollande announces a crackdown at home and abroad, it’s worth reading what Judith Butler had to say from Paris this weekend.

    “Only a woman would be thanked for ‘helping out’”: A former Gawker staffer writes about the company’s problem with women, including a boys’ club tendency to keep offering story tips and promotions to the men, while treating female colleagues (in the words of Jezebel founder Anna Holmes) as either “emotional caretakers and moral compasses” who must “clean up other people’s messes,” or “circus acts,” “good for pageviews but ultimately very disposable.” The story ran on Matter after being killed at Gawker.com on Friday, and the writer, Dayna Evans, mentions that she first came to write it “as a result of several arguments I’d had with my male then-bosses and colleagues about what was perceived as a pay disparity in the many thousands of dollars between male and female employees hired at the same time in equivalent positions.”

    Meanwhile, Gawker’s founding editor, Elizabeth Spiers, is apparently concentrating on more feel-good projects nowadays: The three menu options on her new site, Everup, are “Creativity, Productivity and Wellness.”

    Those interested in the Internet may want to read this remarkable New Yorker profile by Adrian Chen of a scion of the Westboro Baptist Church.

    At the Beverly Wilshire for the PEN Center USA’s 25th Annual Literary Awards last night, Roxane Gay accepted a Freedom to Write gong: Among the others honored were CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou and Francis Ford Coppola.

    Amazon’s editorial team has chosen its ten books of the year—top of the list is Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, and not just because of what Vulture said about her use of the gerund.

    Tomorrow night at Bluestockings, Juliet Jacques will mark the publication of her book, Trans, in conversation with media theorist T. L. Cowan about “transitions of many kinds, personal, and political, formal and critical.”

  • November 16, 2015

    Laila Lalami

    Laila Lalami

    In the wake of the attacks in Paris, the novelist Laila Lalami writes with urgency in The Nation about ISIS, Saudi Arabia, and Western governments.

    And Buzzfeed has an account of the scene at Shakespeare and Company, the well-known bookstore where some twenty people were able to take refuge on Friday night.

    Who owns Anne Frank?

    The Guardian has an interview with Marilynne Robinson: “What saint is it that puts Foxe’s Acts and Monuments on the internet? I mean, the irony of a culture that truly supplies so much to be known and at the same time turns its back on the whole privilege of knowing—it’s amazing to me.”

    In the new LRB, the latest instalment of Jenny Diski’s memoir about her cancer. And a fascinating essay by Jacqueline Rose on the trial of Oscar Pistorius.

    If you missed this profile of Eli Horowitz, former publisher of McSweeney’s and now a would-be reinventor of books and storytelling, it’s worth a look.

    Two longtime New York Times editors—Vanessa Gordon and Kyle Massey—were suddenly fired last week.

    Tomorrow night at apexart on Church Street, you can catch the latest in the Double Take reading series, hosted by Bookforum editor Albert Mobilio: Three pairs of writers will each trade takes on something (in this case, borders, twins, and why New York writers love LA).

  • November 13, 2015

    Mexican author Fernando del Paso, who has described himself as “a baroque writer, extravagant and immoderate,” has won the coveted $135,000 Cervantes Prize.

    George Saunders

    George Saunders

    The New York Times magazine asked George Saunders and Jennifer Egan to discuss writing about the future, which they did, by phone and email. Here’s Egan: “I learned you have to move fast, writing futuristic satire in America: Before you know it, you’re a realist!” And Saunders: “There are some parallels between writing about the future and writing about the past. Neither interests me at all, if the intention is just to ‘get it right.’ It’s nearly impossible to recreate a past mind-set, and also, why bother? That mind-set already existed, if you see what I mean. The goal of a work of fiction is, in my view, to say something, about how life is for us, not at any particular historical moment (past or present or future) but at every single moment.”

    A previously unpublished Edith Wharton story from toward the end of World War I has been found.

    The New York Times has extended the application deadline for its David Carr Fellowship (which will support a journalist for two years on the Times’s media desk) until December 1st.

    In an interview, Johari Osayi Idusuyi, the woman who wouldn’t stop reading her book at a Donald Trump rally, explains how she came to be in such a visible spot in the first place: “I think we were chosen for obvious reasons. We are minorities and there weren’t a lot of minorities there.” Feeling put off by the behavior of the Donald and his supporters, she began reading to pass the time, and then thought: “I’m in the middle, I’m on camera, so why not use the opportunity to promote a great book?” She’d considered bringing Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist with her, but it seems for the best that instead Claudia Rankine’s Citizen got yet another boost.

    New York magazine’s book critic Christian Lorentzen (who delved into Trump lit for a forthcoming issue of Bookforum), reviews the first lines of several new books. Vladimir Nabokov and Mary Gaitskill (who’s also, incidentally, featured in the next Bookforum) both come off well; Rick Moody and Patrick Modiano, less so.

  • November 12, 2015

    The Goldsmiths prize for innovative fiction was awarded to Kevin Barry for Beatlebone, a novel in which John Lennon goes to Ireland for a course of primal scream therapy.

    “Like the hub at the center of a wheel”: Molly McArdle profiles Rachel Fershleiser, Tumblr’s director of literary outreach. “I want to be a rich crazy lady who patronizes writers,” Fershleiser says. “I can’t actually be that, so I try to do it in baby steps.”

    Joyce Carol Oates

    Joyce Carol Oates

    The best thing about The Atlantic’s piece on why writers often love running is the suggestion that Joyce Carol Oates (author of scores of books under her own name and others) may experience “writing blocks.”

    It’s good to know we’re not the only ones still recovering from Karl Ove Knausgaard’s review of Michel Houellebecq.

    Likewise, still musing on Harriet Walter’s thoughts about Shakespeare and “write what you know,” as expressed in an interview about the all-female production of Henry IV she’s starring in this month (set in a women’s prison). “In one way, he’s very honest,” she said of how few parts the bard wrote that she could usually play, “he didn’t know much about women at that age. But he didn’t know much about so many things, and he could get into the Moor of Venice, so why couldn’t he understand an older woman?”

    Tomorrow night at 7 at the the Village Community School on West 10th Street in NYC, you can celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Pushcart Prize with Zadie Smith, Colum McCann, Ben Marcus, Sharon Olds, and Mary Karr.

    On the other hand, you might not want to miss a crucial chapter of Melville’s Moby-Dick—to coincide with its Frank Stella retrospective, which includes work from his “Moby Dick” series, the Whitney will host a marathon reading of the novel by writers and artists, beginning Friday morning.