• May 30, 2014

    A young Maya Angelou

    A young Maya Angelou

    Maya Angelou died on Wednesday at the age of 86. An obituary in the New York Times praises her “directness of voice.” The Wall Street Journal says she will be “remembered above all as the ‘people’s poet.’”  The LA Times calls her “a diva of American culture.” At the Poetry Foundation, read a sampling of her poems.

    I want to say to you that you are graduating at a difficult time, when everything you might have taken for granted in a capitalist democracy, including certification by institutions of higher education and consequent stable employment, is more problematic than ever.” The Baffler has reprinted author Siddhartha Deb‘s New School commencement speech.

    A new stage work titled The Source, which is inspired by WikiLeaks and Chelsea Manning, will premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival. The Source will feature music composed by Ted Hearne with a libretto by Mark Doten, whose anticipated debut novel, The Infernal, will be published by Graywolf in February 2015.

    Capital New York reports that The American Prospect, which is now published bimonthly, will likely reinvent itself as a quarterly for financial reasons.

    Electric Literature launched a new website this week, and has hired a new online editor, Lincoln Michel, formerly of the Minus Times and the author of Upright Beasts, a story collection forthcoming from Coffee House Press.

    James Patterson has donated $268,000 to independent bookstores, including San Francisco’s Green Apple Books and Moe’s Books in Berkeley. This is the second round of gifts this year; all told, he’s spent more than $535,000. He plans to give a total of $1 million.

    Salon explores Amazon’s relationship to literary nonprofits, many of which rely on the company for key funding. A number of the organizations that Salon asked for comment declined to respond—a “scary sign of Amazon’s massive power.”

  • May 29, 2014

    Eduardo Galeano

    Eduardo Galeano

    A blogger points out that the New York Times’s characterization of Eduardo Galeano as having “renounced” his anticapitalist, anticolonialist classic, Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina (Open Veins of Latin America), doesn’t hold water. When you look at the evidence the paper itself provides, it’s hard to see Galeano’s comments as a “disavowal,” (as the Times sensationally called them); rather, “Galeano offered a critique of [his book] and its young author, with the benefit of hindsight and forty-plus years of experience.”

    Gillian Flynn, the author of the much-celebrated Gone Girl, has announced that her next novel will be based on Hamlet. The book will be put out by Hogarth Shakespeare, “a project to retell the Bard’s plays for contemporary readers by well-known writers.”

    The Washingtonian profiles journalist Andrew Sullivan, who has returned to D.C. after an unhappy stint in New York.

    According to the Times, BookExpo America, which opened yesterday at Manhattan’s Javits Center, is trying to be seen as “more welcoming and fun,” by featuring “consumer-friendly attractions like the ‘Hunger Games’ quiz.”

    At a BookExpo event, Kirkus Reviews revealed that it will be sponsoring three $50,000 book prizes, one each in fiction, nonfiction, and YA.

  • May 28, 2014

    Mahbod Moghadam, one of the co-founders of Rap Genius (a website that lets users annotate rap lyrics), has resigned over annotations he made to a memoir written by Elliot Rodger, the alleged shooter of six UCSB students. Tom Lehman, the company CEO, said in a statement that Moghadam’s comments “not only didn’t attempt to enhance anyone’s understanding of the text, but went beyond that into gleeful insensitivity and misogyny. All of which is contrary to everything we’re trying to accomplish at Rap Genius.”

    Edward St. Aubyn

    Edward St. Aubyn

    The New Yorker‘s Ian Parker profiles Edward St. Aubyn, the author of the five-book Patrick Melrose series—”in which extremes of familial cruelty and social snobbery are described with a tart precision that is not quite free of cruelty and snobbery”—and a new novel, Lost for Words. “St. Aubyn has been careful to protect his own life from the dull tarnish of remembrance-and-release; it would pain him if readers mistook a twenty-year literary project for a therapeutic one,” Parker observes. “But the awkward fact is that writing saved St. Aubyn’s life.”  Alexander Benaim reviewed Lost for Words for Bookforum last week.

    At the Huffington Post, a look at why Amazon can play hardball with book publishers: “Hachette needs Amazon a lot more than Amazon needs Hachette.”

    Ken Auletta reports that Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times, refused to sign a nondisparagement agreement after being fired from her post. Auletta has been covering the story for the New Yorker since it broke.

    Texas state senator Wendy Davis’s memoir, Forgetting to Be Afraid, will be published this fall by Blue Rider Press. Davis, who is best known for her eleven-hour filibuster to prevent a senate bill that would restrict access to abortion, is also running for governor in November.

    The New Yorker has made selections of Jack Kerouac’s diaries available to the public.

  • May 27, 2014

    Margaret Atwood’s debut opera, Pauline, has opened in Vancouver. The libretto describes the life and last days of Pauline Johnson, a Canadian writer of Mohawk and British descent who died in 1913.

    Eduardo Galeano

    Eduardo Galeano

    Since its publication 43 years ago, Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of the Continent has been an anticolonialist and anticapitalist classic. Recently, the Uruguayan author reflected on the book’s limitations. “Open Veins tried to be a book of political economy, but I didn’t yet have the necessary training or preparation,” Mr. Galeano said.

    John Wray reflects that working under a pen name has allowed him to be less inhibited as a writer. “John Wray isn’t so different from poor, nebbishy John P. Henderson from Buffalo, New York. He’s just slightly better company—at least when the work is going well. When it isn’t, needless to say, he’s insufferable; but that’s when I remind myself, with a physical rush of relief, that John Wray doesn’t actually exist.”

    David Carr of the Times covers Medium, a hybrid blogging platform that doubles as a publisher.

    Amazon’s tactics against other publishers are undermining the qualities that made the company successful in the first place, writes Farhad Manjoo:  “To win a corporate battle, Amazon is ruining its customer experience”—i.e., “raising prices, removing ordering buttons, lengthening shipping times and monkeying with recommendation algorithms.”

  • May 23, 2014

    Time Magazine is moving to Lower Manhattan and breaking a long-standing industry taboo by beginning to sell ads on its cover.

    Eudora Welty

    Eudora Welty

    In March of 1933, a twenty-three-year-old Eudora Welty wrote a winning letter to the New Yorker asking for a job: “How I would like to work for you! A little paragraph each morning—a little paragraph each night, if you can’t hire me from daylight to dark, although I would work like a slave. I can also draw like Mr. Thurber, in case he goes off the deep end. I have studied flower painting.” Also: “I recently coined a general word for Matisse’s pictures after seeing his latest at the Marie Harriman: concubineapple. That shows you how my mind works—quick, and away from the point. I read simply voraciously, and can drum up an opinion afterwards.” They didn’t hire her.

    Mary McCarthy and Elizabeth Bishop both disliked J.D. Salinger’s novels. “I don’t like Salinger, not at all,” McCarthy sniffed. “That last thing isn’t a novel anyway, whatever it is. I don’t like it. Not at all. It suffers from this terrible sort of metropolitan sentimentality and it’s so narcissistic. And to me, also, it seemed so false, so calculated. Combining the plain man with an absolutely megalomaniac egotism. I simply can’t stand it.” Norman Mailer disliked Salinger too, but also McCarthy . . . and Kerouac, and Gore Vidal; while Vidal had it in for Hemingway, who had it in for Faulkner, who had it in for Twain. The Huffington Post maps the aesthetic grudges of twenty-five writers.

    Philip Roth, as we know, is finished with the whole shebang: writing books, giving readings, doing interviews—except, well, that “extended interview” that the Colbert Report has scheduled for July.

    Vellum turns your Twitter feed into a reading list, ranking the articles according to those most shared (and, we hope, read?) by the people you follow.

  • May 22, 2014

    Two reviewers, Christopher T. Fan at the New Inquiry and Diane Johnson at the New York Review of Books, discuss Chang-Rae Lee’s January novel, On Such a Full Sea, a few months after the rest of the crew. Johnson wonders why writers are attracted to dystopic fiction, “an unlovable genre with an inevitably hectoring tone.”

    At The Cut, Kat Stoeffel defends the use of trigger warnings, writing from the point of view of someone who used to dislike them: “I publicly joked that sappy songs required trigger warnings, and I privately complained that they were as infantilizing as spoiler alerts.”  But lately she’s changed her mind. “When it comes to what’s helpful for, say, survivors of sexual assault, shouldn’t we defer to survivors of sexual assault?”

    Laura Miller explains why she “quit” Amazon, and where she finds her books instead: “I’ve bought e-books for my iPad from four different non-Amazon vendors (Apple, Google, Barnes and Noble and Kobo), easy as pie, and I buy used print books from AbeBooks and Powells.com. I subscribe to Oyster, a new Netflix-for-books service. I also belong to Paperbackswap.com, a site that, for a small fee, enables its members to trade in their used books for credits that can be redeemed for the used books of other members.” Bookforum recommends Emily Books, a subscription to which delivers a curated selection of excellent, off-beat novels, one novel per month.

    Simon & Schuster has become the second of the big five publishers to offer titles on Oyster and Scribd, two services that allow users unlimited access to their e-books collection for a monthly fee.

    Stefan Zweig

    Stefan Zweig

    Tonight in New York, two literary events worth your time: In Brooklyn, Eric Banks chats with George Prochnik about his Stefan Zweig biography; in Manhattan, Porochista Khakpour talks about her new novel, The Last Illusion.

  • May 21, 2014

    Geoff Dyer

    Geoff Dyer

    At Vulture, Kathryn Schultz praises Geoff Dyer’s uncanny success with books “based on dubious ideas”—say, the unpromising “scene-by-scene analysis of a three-hour Russian film,” or the annoying-sounding book about “the author’s inability to write it.” But Dyer is a master: “The essential fact about [his] nonfiction is that it works beautifully when it shouldn’t work at all.” Another Great Day at Sea came out yesterday.

    Publishers Weekly is debuting a new site, “BookLife,” devoted to self-publishing. BookLife will launch in late May, during BookExpo America. BookWriters sans BookPublishers, take note.

    Speaking of the BookExpo—or BEA, as it’s known—a good twenty thousand “industry folk” are expected to attend this year’s convention, which will be held May 28-31 at the Javitz Center in Manhattan.

    The New York Review of Books offers a grim new poem by Frederick Seidel, “Robespierre”:  “There’s a wishing well in hell / Where every wish is granted. / Decapitation gets decanted. / Suppose you have the chance / To guillotine the executioner after having guillotined everyone else in France?”

    At the Paris Review Daily, Ted Trautman reports from Austin’s O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships. In the “Punslingers” portion of the event, contestants compete to come up with as many puns as possible on a given theme, a game that “rewards a contestant for the quantity of her puns rather than their quality.” The going wasn’t easy: “As the moderators explained several times, in a refrain later echoed by desperate contestants defending their ripostes, ‘It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be a pun.’”

    Lisa Darms, an archivist at the Fales Library, interviews Hedi El Kholti of Semiotext(e) about the independent publisher’s inclusion in the Whitney Biennial. “I am not sure if a press belongs in a museum show,” El Kholti says, but “there is a tradition of reading rooms in museums.” And “a lot of things end up in the art world because it’s the last remaining place that offers some kind of freedom and a context.”

  • May 20, 2014

    Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary now includes the words “hashtag,” “selfie,” “tweep,” “gamification,” and, rather belatedly, “social networking.”

    The New York Times reports on the increasing use of trigger warnings, which flag upsetting content that may “trigger” a post-traumatic stress reaction. At UC Santa Barbara, the student government made a formal request asking that trigger warnings be used on course material, and similar requests have been made at Oberlin, Rutgers, the University of Michigan, and George Washington University. The suggestion that classic works of literature need warnings has been particularly controversial. Two examples: The Merchant of Venice, because it contains anti-Semitism, and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, because it addresses suicide.Times readers were triggered into leaving a slew of comments.

    The Atlantic lists a hundred examples from the past year of “fantastic” journalism.

    Maude Newton

    Maude Newton

    The critic Maude Newton has announced that Random House will publish her first book, a study of genealogy that grew out of a piece she wrote for the current issue of Harper’s, “America’s Ancestry Craze.”

    Poynter reports that since 2006, Buzzfeed has published 22,500 pieces about cats, 12,500 of those since 2012. Never enough, we say, never enough.

    A new book maps the proliferation of allusions—including references to Ovid, Virgil, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, H.G. Wells, and self-help books—in Bob Dylan’s Chronicles.

  • May 19, 2014

    Politico reports that New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger fired executive editor Jill Abramson last week after concluding that she had give him misleading information about her decision to hire a new co-managing editor. According to sources, Abramson led Sulzberger to believe that she had consulted with other editors about the candidate she wanted to hire. Many have called the dismissal graceless (and some, such as Salon’s Daniel D’Addario, have said that she was fired for seeking a salary equal to that of her male predecessor, Bill Keller). It certainly has shaken up the newsroom—one staffer leaked (to Buzzfeed) a 96-page internal “innovation” report, which the Neiman Journalism Lab says is “one of the key documents of this media age.” Buzzfeed goes far, headlining one post about the leaked document “The End of the Print New York Times.” 

    Dan Kois

    Dan Kois

    At Slate, two editors, Dan Kois and Laura Helmuth, debate their very different editorial methods. Says Kois: “I want writers to walk away bruised but invigorated and wanting more. Like they just ran Tough Mudder or something.”

    If you read the new anthologies MFA vs. NYC and Should I Go to Grad School? and you still want to get an advanced degree in writing, Publisher’s Weekly has published its first MFA survey, with quotes from writers, teachers, and agents.

    Chipotle plans to start running short original works fiction on its drink cups, by authors including Toni Morrison, Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, and Jonathan Safran Foer. The Daily Dot has an exclusive excerpt of George Saunders’s new fast-food fiction.

    For and against Karl Ove Knausgaard: In the Nation, William Deresiewicz asks why My Struggle has gotten so much attention; in the LRB, Ben Lerner answers that it has something to do with the quality of Knausgaard’s attention. Obviously, “Knausgaard couldn’t remember his past in the degree of detail the books provide. . . . But the cumulative effect of his descriptions is to suggest the possibility of total recall, a past citable in all its moments: each cornflake, each snowflake.”

  • May 16, 2014

    The conversation continues apace about Wednesday’s firing of Jill Abramson from her post as executive editor of the New York Times, which may have been tied to Abramson’s complaints about her compensation. At the Atlantic, Rebecca J. Rosen is cheered by the generally feminist tone of the response to the incident—“Not too long ago, a reader would have had to head to feminist websites (or, longer ago, zines) to find the sort of thinking now represented at some of America’s most mainstream news publications”—and at New York Magazine, Ann Friedman reflects on the difficulty of being a woman in the newsroom: “It’s hard to be sure what’s sexism and what’s you.” Meanwhile, Olga Khazan points out that the story is likely more complicated than the “social-justice-resonant narrative that gained traction on Twitter,” and notes that the Times has said that Abramson’s compensation was not less than that of her predecessor, Bill Keller. The New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta crunches the numbers: “Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000. Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000. She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes.” The Times’s insistence that Abramson wasn’t making significantly less than Keller was likely based on her total compensation package, Auletta explains, “which includes . . . any bonuses, stock grants, and other long-term incentives.” But it’s hard to evaluate this without more information from the paper. Finally, the New Republic’s Rebecca Traister laments the lack of women and people and color in positions of greatest power, which “makes each one of the representatives come to mean so much more—both when they rise and when they fall.”

    Natalie Nougayrède

    Natalie Nougayrède

    On the other side of the ocean, an oddly similar story: LeMonde’s first female editor in chief, Natalie Nougayrède, has left the paper “after a power struggle with top staff.”

    Michelle Dean snippily advises Joyce Carol Oates to delete her Twitter account.

    Rebecca Mead considers George Eliot’s choice to write books instead of have children.

    Francine Prose and Mohsin Hamid discuss the drawbacks of commercial success in literature. The trouble with public acknowledgment, Prose argues, is “the ease with which the public can seep into the private and poison the writer’s work, like some kind of toxic spill.”

    Jonathan Safran Foer + Chipotle cups = all the more reason to avoid the burrito chain.

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