• October 31, 2014

    Matt Taibbi

    Matt Taibbi

    The Intercept gives the backstory to Matt Taibbi’s recent departure from First Look (its parent company), describing his resignation as the result of “months of contentious disputes” that Taibbi had with Pierre Omidyar, Randy Ching, and John Temple (First Look’s founder, COO, and president, respectively). Taibbi had been hired to head Racket, which was conceived of as a satirical magazine, but problems arose over the “structure and management” of the site. According to Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill, and Jon Cook  (all are listed as authors on the story), the conflict has to do with a schism between executives who “come from a highly structured Silicon Valley corporate environment” and the “fiercely independent” journalists who are skeptical of that corporate culture and “management-speak.” The even profounder problem, it seems, is the question of how much autonomy the Intercept and Racket are to have, financially and in terms of their editorial content.

    When Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth leaves the company on October 1, the paper’s masthead will be 100 percent male.

    Joyce Carol Oates invited a round of Twitter scorn with her comments on a recent video of a woman getting catcalled around New York. In ten hours of walking, the woman received 100 catcalls. Oates chalked it up to the neighborhoods the woman was walking in. Twitter disagreed.

    The Baffler has left MIT Press, after three years with the publisher.

    The New York Times has added 44,000 digital subscribers this quarter. That’s the good news. The rest isn’t: Print circulation increased only infinitesimally; print advertising dropped 5 percent; and the paper experienced a net loss of $12.5 million.

  • October 30, 2014

    The poet Galway Kinnell died on Tuesday in Vermont. He was eighty-seven. Poetry, Kinnell said, “is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.” Read some of his poems at the Poetry Foundation.

    Galway Kinnell

    Galway Kinnell

    Knopf has signed a two-book, six-figure deal with Stephanie Danler, a thirty-year-old writer who managed to attract attention to the manuscript of her debut novel, Sweetbitter, by mentioning it to Peter Gethers—the editor-at-large of Penguin Random House who is a regular at the West Village restaurant where Danler works as a waitress (presumably not for long).

    George W. Bush will soon begin promoting 41, the book he’s written about his father, George H. W. Bush. Both CBS and NBC have interviews scheduled.

    “In order to be tragic, Humbert needs to convince us that he is a character of stature, not just a sordid abuser who takes a young girl on a sex tour of seedy American motels.” Guardian books editor Claire Armistead argues that Lolita’s Humbert Humbert is the “most seductive villain in fiction.” Yesterday The Guardian launched a redesign of its US website (which, for what its worth, subtly color-codes according to type of story: Features are dark pink, opinion is orange, video is yellow).

    Kathryn Schulz at New York magazine has compiled “Your Complete Ebola-Quarantine Reading Guide.”

    Two more bookstores in New York City are closing: the Posman Books in Grand Central Station and a Barnes & Noble in Queens.

  • October 29, 2014

    Malcolm Lowry in 1946

    Malcolm Lowry in 1946

    In Ballast to the White Sea, a novel by Malcolm Lowry thought to have been lost in a fire, is being published in Canada in a scholarly edition by the University of Ottawa Press. Jan Gabriel, Malcolm’s first wife, had apparently kept an early version of the manuscript, which she gave to the New York Public Library in 2000.

    Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Alan Hollinghurst, and others will auction off the right to name certain characters in their novels. Atwood offers the chance of appearing as yourself in the book she’s currently writing or in the retelling of The Tempest that she has plans to do next. The auction will take place on November 20, and is a benefit for the charity Freedom from Torture.

    The Chicago Sun-Times plans to launch “mobile-first” editions in seventy cities. The sites are intended to mimic Buzzfeed and Deadspin, and will aggregate content from Sun-Times writers and others.

    Matt Taibbi is on a leave of absence from First Look, the umbrella media company started by Pierre Omidyar last year. Taibbi had been hired by Omidyar to head up a satirical magazine, Racket, which was supposed to launch this fall. Plans for Racket are still going forward, but the launch (which at one point was slated for October) has been delayed.

    The Doubletake reading series features three pairs of writers on three subjects, respectively. Tonight, at apexart in Manhattan, Alexandra Chasin and Robert Lopez on horse-racing; Filip Noterdaeme and Rick Whitaker on the primal scream; and J.C. Hallman and James Marcus on Nicholson Baker’s classic phone-sex novel, Vox

  • October 28, 2014

    CBC host Jian Ghomeshi has been asked to take a leave of absence from work due to allegations of engaging in nonconsensual violent sexual behavior with three women. Jesse Brown broke the story, with the help of the Toronto Star. For Americans who don’t know who Ghomeshi is (first important fact: He’s Canadian), Gawker has a primer. CBC is like NPR but “more influential,” says Gawker, and Ghomeshi is like Ira Glass but “less serious.” Ghomeshi followed up news of the allegations with a Facebook post in which he said he had been the target of “harassment, vengeance and demonization.” As of Tuesday morning, the post had been liked more than 109,000 times and received more than 41,000 shares. 

    Jeremy Schmidt and Jacquelyn Ardam discuss the UCLA Library Special Collections’ new ‘born-digital’ archive of Susan Sontag’s computer files and complete email correspondence: “Reading Sontag’s lists in their original e-environment brings the issues of the digital archive-with its constant push-and-pull between proliferation and deep freeze-to the surface . . . there are no cross-outs, no carets, no smudges . . . Instead we are faced with a proliferation of documents.”

    Amtrack’s first writer in residence, comic book writer Bill Willing, offers practical advice to future recipients: “Stock up on small bills (tipping is on you).”

    Michael Hofmann is not a fan of the new Amis novel.

    Edward Mendelson considers the effects for writers of using word processors: “Intelligent writers can produce intelligent prose using almost any instrument, but the medium in which they write will always have some more or less subtle effect on their prose. When I work in Word, for all its luxuriant menus and dazzling prowess, I can’t escape a faint sense of having entered a closed rule -bound society. When I write in WordPerfect, with all its scruffy, low-tech simplicity, the world seems more open, a place where endings can’t be predicted, where freedom is real.”

     

  • October 27, 2014

    Greg Marra

    Greg Marra

    At the Times, Ravi Somaiya reports on Facebook engineer Greg Marra, who helps determine what Facebook users see in the site’s news feed, and who is “fast becoming one of the most influential people in the news business.” The homepages of news sites are becoming less and less of a reader destination; social-media sites, meanwhile, are sending people to actual stories. “The shift raises questions about the ability of computers to curate news, a role traditionally played by editors,” Somaiya writes. “It also has broader implications for the way people consume information, and thus how they see the world.”

    Lili King’s Euphoria, a historical novel that draws on the biography of Margaret Mead, and Roz Chast’s memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? have won the first-ever Kirkus prize.

    The website HTMLGIANT, which announced its plans to call it quits earlier this month, published its final posts on Friday, including one from longtime contributor Roxane Gay. “I learned so much about how to argue, being criticized, developing a thicker skin, becoming a stronger writer, being more open minded, standing my ground,” Gay wrote. “HTMLGIANT has its issues and they have been well-documented, particularly when it comes to sexism and racism. But the world is a difficult place. It would be strange to expect that this community, and it is, a community, would somehow rise above the world’s imperfections as a utopia.”

    At Salon, Emily Gould analyzes two cases of “authors behaving badly”: memoirist Margo Howard’s online complaints about Amazon critics who gave her bad reviews (and who she calls “dim bulbs”), and novelist William Giraldi, who has complained at the Daily Beast that too many people at Goodreads and Amazon are comparing him to Cormac McCarthy. Gould calls both of these pieces “tall glasses of white whine” that shouldn’t have been published, but she does have empathy: “The problem is that authors with a new book out are usually suffering from a mental disorder that should probably be in the DSMIV.”

    Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk, a cult novelist who once reportedly caused audience members at his readings to pass out, is hosting a reading and party at Powerhouse Books this Friday to celebrate his new book, Beautiful You. And Halloween, of course.

  • October 24, 2014

    Amazon’s bad third-quarter earnings report prompted the price of its shares to fall by 10 percent.

    Ross Douthat

    Ross Douthat

    The conservative writer Ross Douthat apologized for attending a fundraiser in support of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit opposed to gay rights. Douthat said that he was “not aware” that the event was a fundraiser for the group; rather, he said, he thought it was to be a “public conversation about religious liberty.” He will decline the honorarium.

    The Guardian adds a number of opinion writers to its ranks, including Roxanne Gay, Reza Aslan, Rebecca Solnit, and Jeb Lund.

    Jon Weiner interviews Laura Poitras about her new documentary about Edward Snowden. In the course of working with Snowden, Poitras was detained at least thirty-seven times at the airport. Then Glenn Greenwald wrote an article about the harassment, and “it stopped. Right there.” “Is there a lesson here?” Weiner asks. “There is,” Poitras replies. “It took me a long time to learn it: go public.”

    The Washington Post profiles Thought Catalogue.

    A short piece calls the Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company the ”greatest bookstore in the world.” The founder, George Whitman, handed over the store to his daughter, Silvia, in 2004. When he did, he painted these words across its shutters: “INSTEAD OF BEING A BONAFIDE BOOKSELLER, I AM MORE LIKE A FRUSTRATED NOVELIST. THIS STORE HAS ROOMS LIKE CHAPTERS IN A NOVEL AND THE FACT IS TOLSTOI AND DOSTOYEVSKY ARE MORE REAL TO ME THAN MY NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORs. . . . IN THE YEAR 1600, OUR WHOLE BUILDING WAS A MONASTERY CALLED ‘LA MAISON DU MUSTIER.’ IN MEDIEVAL TIMES EACH MONASTERY HAD A FRERE LAMPIER WHOSE DUTY WAS TO LIGHT THE LAMPS AT NIGHTFALL. I HAVE BEEN DOING THIS FOR FIFTY YEARS. NOW IT IS MY DAUGHTER’S TURN.”

     

  • October 23, 2014

    Ben Bradlee, long-time editor of the Washington Post, died on Tuesday. He was ninety-three. Bradlee was in charge of the Post for twenty-six years, during which time the paper broke Watergate and won seventeen Pulitzers.

    Vogue has an exclusive preview of Griffin Dunne’s new documentary about Joan Didion, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live. A Kickstarter supporting the film has already raised more than half of its $80,000 goal. A $35 donation will be reciprocated with a handwritten list of Didion’s twelve favorite books. A $50 donation comes with a PDF of her handwritten recipe book, and $2500 gets you a pair of her sunglasses.

    The New York Times‘s recent buyout offer was aimed at encouraging about a hundred people on staff to leave; more than three times that have submitted requests. Employees who belong to the Guild are eligible for three weeks of pay for every year worked. Those who have worked for the paper for twenty years or more are also eligible for a bonus equal to 35 percent of their salary.

    JSTOR is launching a daily publication online, with the intention of introducing general readers to its cache of academic journals.

    Ben Bradlee

    Ben Bradlee

    Google is developing a new email interface called Inbox. Yesterday the first version was released, available by invitation only. The interface resembles a social-networking program, offering previews of messages on the home screen and allowing you to see photos without opening the messages containing them. It also automatically sorts messages, and is designed to integrate to-do lists and calendar items.

    On Tuesday, Amazon and Simon & Schuster confirmed that they had reached an agreement about e-book pricing, one that Amazon said “creates a financial incentive for Simon & Schuster to deliver lower prices for readers.”

     

  • October 22, 2014

    Music & Literature No. 5 is out, with portfolios of the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, the Norwegian writer Stig Sæterbakken, and the Chinese writer Can Xue. Each issue of the journal, which appears in print, celebrates three under-recognized artists, featuring work by and about them. Saariaho will present a concert on November 20 at the Scandinavia House to mark the issue launch. Past issues have profiled Clarice Lispector, László Krasznahorkai, Bela Tarr, Arvo Pärt, Mary Ruefle, and Vladimír Godár, among others. Read an interview with the journal’s editors, Taylor Davis Van-Atta and Daniel Medin, here.

    The Pew Research Center releases the results of a study measuring levels of trust for various publications, broken down by ideological group. Buzzfeed is only publication that is equally mistrusted across all ideological backgrounds. The Wall Street Journal shows a similarly uniform response: It is equally trusted by people of all political persuasion. The New York Times is trusted by liberals, distrusted by conservatives, and Al Jazeera America gets the opposite treatment (distrusted by liberals, trusted by conservatives).

    Vice News and the New York Review of Books are collaborating on a video series—called ”Talking Heads”—that will animate NYRB essays. The first episode aired last week, and features the journalist Orville Schell on his piece about US-China relations.

    A previously unpublished 1959 essay by Isaac Asimov asks how people “get new ideas,” and concludes that it’s best to be “a person of good background in the field of interest” as well as of “unconventional” habits.Isolation is important, because “creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.” The essay was written for an MIT spinoff called Allied Research Associates, which had been contracted by the government to work on creative approaches to the development of a ballistic missile defense system. After writing this essay Asimov declined to participate any further, arguing that his participation in the project would limit his own creative freedom.

    Joan Didion and Vanessa Redgrave

    Joan Didion and Vanessa Redgrave

    On November 17, Vanessa Redgrave will perform selections from Joan Didion’s Blue Nights. Redgrave played Didion in an adaptation of Didion’s earlier book, The Year of Magical Thinking, as well. The show will be staged in Manhattan’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and is scheduled for one night only.

  • October 21, 2014

    At Poynter, Andrew Beaujon has posted an opinion piece about three journalism schools that have rescinded invitations to journalists due to fears of Ebola. After quoting the statements explaining the cancellations, Beaujon writes: “‘Caution,’ ‘questions,’ ‘sensitive’—these are all apparently synonyms for willful disregard for facts, which is a curious fit for journalism schools, institutions that purportedly train people how to report what they know.”

    After Margo Howard’s new book Eat, Drink, and Remarry received bad reviews from Amazon’s Vine Community, an “elite” group of reviewers who weigh in on books before their publication, the author accused the online critics of sabotage. The reviews were “all rotten,” she said at the New Republic. “I mean inaccurate, insulting, and demonstrably written by dim bulbs.” Now, Jennifer Weiner has weighed in. She empathizes (“I can feel Howard’s pain”), but also inveighs: “Everything from [Howard’s] name-dropping (both a MacArthur genius and a long-time Vanity Fair staff writer loved her book!) to her solution to the problem (it turns out that Howard knows two members of Amazon’s board of directors!) smacks of barely-examined privilege.”

    The total number of books in print in English reached twenty-eight million in  2013, as counted by tallying up ISBNs issued.

    The short story in this week’s New Yorker is by Tom Hanks (“Alan Bean Plus Four“), and it’s a comedy about space travel. (Alan Bean was the fourth person to walk on the moon.) “My mind went berserk when Ed White did his space walk,” Hanks told fiction editor Deborah Treisman in an interview about the story. 

    Tim Parks suggests that fiction no longer has the effect of protecting its writer—as readers we are too skilled, too “canny.” “Reflecting on the disguising effects of a story,” he writes, “on the way a certain set of preoccupations has been shifted from reality to fiction, has become, partly thanks to literary criticism and popular psychology, one of the main pleasures of reading certain authors.”  The turn to autobiography and confessional writing has been one response to this mode of reading. Has fiction, then, outlived one of its main purposes? Parks thinks maybe: Perhaps writers will find it “increasingly irrelevant to embark on another long work of fiction that elaborately reformulates conflicts and concerns that the reader anyway assumes are autobiographical.” 

     

  • October 20, 2014

    Mark Sarvas’s Elegant Variation, started in 2003, was one of the original and most popular book blogs. After his novel Harry, Revised was published in 2008, Sarvas stepped away from the blog, but according to a new post, TEV is back, in a slightly different format. “I’ve been attracted to and inspired by the intimacy and samizdat feel of the newsletter form, and thought I’d try a little experiment,” Sarvas writes. “I’m leaving the form open to revision (and feedback—please), but I envision an email digest (perhaps weekly, perhaps bi-weekly) for my friends, former students and perhaps interested strangers, of literary matters that interest or excite me.” You can sign up for it here.

    Alan Moore

    Alan Moore

    Alan Moore, the author of the comics cult classics like The Watchmen and V Is for Vendetta, has written a million-word novel called Jerusalem. One of the concepts behind the mammoth tome is eternalism. “What it’s saying is, everything is eternal,” he recently told an interviewer. “Every person, every dog turd, every flattened beer can—there’s usually some hypodermics and condoms and a couple of ripped-open handbags along here as well—nothing is lost. No person, no speck or molecule is lost. No event. It’s all there for ever.”

    For the upcoming holiday-shopping season, Amazon is planning two pop-up stores in California and, according to rumors, one in midtown Manhattan. Though these will be brick-and-mortar stores, no one is expecting many paper-and-glue products. The stores, say many in the industry, are “all about drawing consumers to [Amazon] hardware.”

    Poets and Writers profiles Graywolf Press executive editor Jeff Shotts: “Our nonprofit, independent structure creates a culture. We’re absolutely a mission-driven organization. That allows us to make editorial decisions that are often deemed risky, because we have a safety net of support underneath those decisions in a way that other presses don’t.”

    Conde Nast has reportedly laid off 50 staffers. According to Media Bistro, a meeting between publishers and company president Bob Sauerberg is scheduled for Tuesday, and if budgets aren’t being met, “more cuts are likely on their way.”

    After Tweets by Gawker writer Sam Biddle hurt the feelings of some readers last week, resulting in an apology, Gawker Media Editorial Director Joel Johnson sent out a memo on Friday, stating: “I don’t want to tell you what to tweet. But I do want you to think about how your tweets can be perceived without context. I’m as guilty as anyone about using Twitter as a place for absurdity and trolling among friends, but the last couple of days have made it clear how people are willing to conflate personal tweets as official company statements.” Deadspin editor Tommy Craggs declared the memo “shitty”: “I understand that a certain amount of realpolitik is necessary for maintaining cordial relationships with our advertisers, and that it’s easy for me to be righteous when for the most part I’m cosseted from any hard considerations, but the memo and the apology—over what amounted to a few half-assed jokes of the kind my site specializes in—seemed to cross some sort of editorial Rubicon.”

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