• November 19, 2013

    Bloomberg News is cutting arts coverage, and very unfortunately, that includes books: The company let go of books editor and National Book Critics Circle president Laurie Muchnick on Monday.

    The New York Times talks with William T. Vollmann about The Book of Dolores, a creative account of Vollmann’s female alter-ego. Vollmann started cross-dressing seriously about five years ago, and he tells the Times that after a lifetime of dodging land mines and Afghan warlords, presenting himself as a woman introduced a series of new challenges: “A lot of friends who could always handle the prostitutes and the drugs felt that I had somehow degraded myself,” he said. “The idea of stepping down from the dominant male class really disgusts a lot of people, including women.”

    William T. Vollmann

    William T. Vollmann

    Is a rejection letter always just a rejection letter? Columnist Edan Lepucki at the Millions queries the editors of a handful of literary magazines about the “tiers of rejection” at their respective publications, and what an encouraging note from an editor might mean for future pitches.

    From Bibles in the bedside table to entire lending libraries—The New York Times chronicles the ascent of “literary-minded hotels.”

    Cowboy poetry is thought to have originated sometime after the Civil War, and while most people are unaware of it, the genre is still alive and well today. “Everyone perceives cowboy culture as being this testosterone-driven thing,” says photographer Jay B Sauceda. “It’s surprising to people when they find out there’s this soft side of cowboys that involves heartache and girls and friends who died.” Slate features a slideshow of Sauceda’s images of cowboy poets.

    Fifty Shades of Gray is not only only dirty, it’s downright unhygienic. Toxicologists at the Catholic University in Leuven in Belgium ran chemical tests on the top-ten most checked-out books at the local library in Antwerp and found that all of the books tested positive for traces of cocaine. The copy of Fifty Shades of Gray, however, one-upped the rest, also testing positive for traces of the herpes virus.

     

     

  • November 18, 2013

    Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing passed away last weekend at her home in London. She was 94. Over the course of her career, Lessing wrote more than fifty novels, and won virtually every major literary award available in Europe. Accepting the Nobel in 2007, the year before she published her last novel, Lessing quipped, “I’m 88 years old and they can’t give the Nobel to someone who’s dead, so I think they were probably thinking they’d probably better give it to me now before I’ve popped off.” For more on Lessing, read her 2002 interview with Bookforum.

    New Yorkers, if you’re free tonight, we recommend a celebration of Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, on the 150 anniversary of his birth. The event is hosted by the PEN American Center, and “combines performances, personal and scholarly reflections, onstage interviews, ‘live translations,’ musical numbers, and a live dance performance and video works by Greek choreographer/stage director Dimitris Papaioannou, based on Cavafy’s signature poems.” Among those involved will be Andre Aciman, Michael Cunningham, Mark Doty, Olympia Dukakis, Daniel Mendelsohn, Orhan Pamuk, and Kathleen Turner.

    C.P. Cavafy

    C.P. Cavafy

    The New York Times previews this year’s Miami Book Fair, which, although it started in an neighborhood known for “prostitutes and vagrants” in a city not known for literary culture, has managed to become “the largest and by nearly all accounts the most diverse public literary event in the United States.”

    Salon explains why Philip Roth is wrong in his depictions of elderly sex.

    New York Magazine excerpts Daniel Menaker’s memoir about his career in publishing, which carries the revealing title My Mistake.

    Prolific Italian translator William Weaver died on Sunday at his home in Rhinebeck, New York, at the age of ninety. In addition to translating the works of Italo Calvino, Weaver translated Umberto Eco, Primo Levi, Alberto Moravia, Eugenio Montale, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italo Svevo, and numerous other well-known writers.

     

  • November 15, 2013

    A New York court has ruled in favor of Google’s argument that scanning more than twenty million books and posting snippets of them online without permission from the authors does not violate the terms of fair use. The ruling is a major victory for Google, and against the group of authors and publishers who filed the class action suit in 2005. The plaintiff, led by the Authors Guild, had been demanding a payment of $750 for each book scanned.

    Simon and Schuster is restructuring its production and manufacturing division to “further integrate the design and creation of e-books into the earliest stages of our overall production process.”

    The Saturday after Thanksgiving, authors will volunteer at their local bookstores at more than one hundred shops around the country in honor of Small Business Saturday.

    Slate catalogs New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani’s overuse of her new favorite phrase, “deeply felt,” with a list of the forty times she’s used it in her columns since 1984.

    kakutani

    Michiko Kakutani

    Some novelists work for years without ever being acknowledged, but in Italy, others might just go on TV. This Sunday will see the premiere of Masterpiece, a new reality TV show in which aspiring authors “vie at literary challenges until one contestant wins a major book deal—and a level of publicity that few novelists achieve over a lifetime of quiet toil.”

    Susan Choi, Woody Guthrie, Matthew Reynolds, and Manil Suri are among the seven novelists shortlisted for this year’s “Bad Sex” award. The prize, now in its 21st year, celebrates the “the most embarrassing passage of sexual description in a novel.” The winner will be named on December 3.

  • November 13, 2013

    At Page Turner, Maria Bustillos weighs in on the controversy surrounding Isaac Fitzgerald’s hiring as Buzzfeed’s books editor—and his declaration to publish only positive reviews—with a bit of background context: “It bears mentioning that Fitzgerald’s views are very much in line with those of the San Francisco literary establishment whence he hails. The influential essay by Heidi Julavits, published more than a decade ago in the Believer, ‘Rejoice! Believe! Be Strong and Read Hard!‘ was written explicitly against ‘snark’ and in favor of more positive book reviewing.”

    Joseph Brodsky dropped out of school after finishing seventh grade, but he famously held his poetry students to high academic standards, forcing them to memorize and transcribe up to four pages of 19th-century Russian poetry overnight. If you aspire to Brodsky’s level of rigor, you can check out his reading list for having an “intelligent conversation.”

    Joseph Brodsky

    Joseph Brodsky

    Are smartphones ruining fiction? Writer Robert Lanham thinks so: “I find it impossible to write fiction that’s set after 2002. Not because I’m a Gen-X-er waxing nostalgic… It’s just that it’s inconceivable to depict contemporary times authentically without including interludes where characters stare at their cell phones instead of advancing their plotlines—their lives—towards some conclusion. Which is, as a thing to read, mind-numbingly dull. Unless I write ‘and then his Galaxy 4’s battery died,’no one can ever get lost, forget an important fact, meet a partner outside of a dating site, or do anything that doesn’t eventually have them picking up a phone.”

    The New York Times profiles Daniel Alarcon, a young Peruvian writer who writes in English, and whose new novel, At Night We Walk in Circles, is out this month.

    And speaking of the Times, the paper has named staffer Tanzina Vega as its first beat reporter on race and ethnicity.

    The New Yorker’s Mary Norris sits in on a round of Literary Jeopardy at McNally Jackson, with editors Lorin Stein and Edwin Frank facing off against Bookforum contributor Ruth Franklin and former Bookforum editor Eric Banks.

  • Tuesday was a big day for professional shake-ups in journalism. Following news that reporters Matt Bai and Brian Stelter were leaving the New York Times (for Yahoo! News and CNN, respectively), the big story was that New York Times Magazine editor Hugo Lindgren is on the way out—and apparently not at his own volition. At the Awl, Choire Sicha names fourteen people who could fill Lindgren’s shoes.

    Ernest Hemingway put in a word for Ballantine Ale, Frederick Forsyth for Rolex, Mark Twain for Campbell’s soup: vintage advertisements starring famous authors.hemingway

    At n+1, Ben Kunkel responds to news of Twitter going public with a manifesto arguing that social media is “basically non-economic and non-productive” and therefore should be administered like a public good. “The time has come,” Kunkel writes, “to socialize social media.”

    Graphic novelist Allison Bechdel talks with the Atlantic about what it was like to see her graphic memoir Fun Home adapted for the stage.

    Texas state senator Wendy Davis, the woman who became a national media sensation earlier this year for holding an eleven-hour-filibuster to block legislation that would have banned abortions in Texas after twenty weeks of pregnancy, has signed a deal to write an autobiography. The book will come out in 2014 with Blue Rider Press.

    A new survey of members of the PEN American Center about government surveillance shows that it’s a topic that many writers are deeply concerned about. Out of the 528 members questioned, 73 percent said that they have “never been as worried about privacy rights and freedom of the press as they are today,” and 28 percent said they had “curtailed or avoided activities on social media.”

  • November 12, 2013

    Morrissey’s Autobiography offers very little first-hand insight into the Smiths, but fans can still learn a great deal about the Mozzer’s singing by noting the many songs he mentions throughout the book. The Manhattanchester blog has compiled a playlist of them all, complete with links to most of the tunes on Spotify. In addition to well-known Morrissey favorites like the New York Dolls, David Bowie, and T. Rex, there are some deep cuts (The Paper DollsBlue Mink, and The Pioneers), as well as hits (Diana Ross’s “Reflections”). To hear more about some of his sonic obsessions, check out Morrissey’s Desert Island picks from BBC radio.

    Film critic, author, and Bookforum contributor J. Hoberman has been named the video columnist at the New York Times.

    The family of Malcolm X has filed suit to stop publication of a diary recounting the activist’s trips to the Middle East and Africa in the year leading up to his assassination. The book is set to be published this week by the Chicago-based Third World Press, but many of Malcolm X’s heirs say the press does not have the right to do so.

    A group of NYU students have adapted Tar, a 1983 book of poems by C.K. Williams, into a feature-length film that will be released in December. The book covers Williams’s life from the 1940s to the 1980s, and a number of different actors play the poet—including, unsurprisingly, former NYU film student James Franco.

    There is “a very real possibility” that developers will break ground on a theme park based on the Hunger Games series in the next few years. Moby Lives advises on how to make it as awesome as possible.

    Knopf has paid nearly $2 million for a 900-page debut novel by Millions contributor Garth Risk Hallberg. The manuscript, City of Fire, received rapturous reviews from early readers—including Knopf’s Sonny Mehta—and according to Hallberg’s agent, “revolve[s] around a central mystery: what exactly is going on behind the locked steel doors of a derelict townhouse in the East Village, and what might it have to do with the shooting in Central Park in the novel’s opening act?” No publication date has been set.

  • November 11, 2013

    Michelle Dean responds to the internet backlash against the appointment of Isaac Fitzgerald as Buzzfeed’s book editor with the argument that Buzzfeed—and the acknowledgement of the internet’s role in literary culture—won’t kill book reviewing, though ”snobbery might.”

    Stephen Glass

    Stephen Glass

    Haruki Murakami has already named a novel after the Beatles’ song “Norwegian Wood,” and now he’s raiding their oeuvre again for titles. His latest short story, “Drive My Car,” was published in the Japanese magazine Bungeishunju last week.

    A New York Times account of the legal troubles surrounding Gore Vidal’s estate not only highlights the late writer’s family drama, but also hints that Vidal may have engaged in sex acts with underage boys. In 2011, when he was battling dementia, Vidal left his estate (estimated to be worth around $37 million) to Harvard University, angering several of his relatives who now seem to be willing to air Vidal’s dirty laundry. Speaking to the Times, nephew Burr Steers claimed the Vidal had promised him the estate, then noted that evidence may exist—with conservative columnist William F. Buckley, no less—of Vidal’s participation in what Burrs called “Jerry Sandusky acts.”

    Amazon reviews, liveblogging books, and including GIFs in reviews—Salon’s Laura Miller surveys the brave new landscape of multimedia book reviewing, and makes a convincing case that “all of these innovations can be fascinating if you’re interested in how people talk about the experience of reading.”

    To celebrate its 15th birthday, McSweeney’s has launched a crowdfunding campaign geared to raise… $15. The idea here isn’t to meet the goal (which has already happened) it’s to hold “the most successful campaign of its kind. Percentage-wise.” So far, it’s working splendidly: the publishing concern is beating expectations by 86,046 percent, with 223 backers and a month to go.

    Disgraced journalist Stephen Glass’s magazine days are behind him, and it’s looking like he won’t have a career practicing law ahead of him, either—at least not in California. Glass moved to California several years ago after a failed attempt to get licensed as a lawyer in New York, and was rejected again by the California Bar Court on moral grounds. Last week, Glass challenged the rejection in a Sacramento court, and things did not go well. State supreme court justices seemed to side with the argument that Glass had failed to demonstrate “a pattern of exemplary behavior” since getting caught fabricating more than forty magazine articles, and wondered whether he had recently been forthcoming about the extent of his lies. One justice noted “that he did not fully disclose an entire list of his contrived works until he was asked to do so by California examiners.”

  • November 7, 2013

    The relationship between Japan and South Korea has been fraught for years due to a history of territorial disputes. Over the past two decades, however, the soaring popularity of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami in South Korea has helped mend relations between the countries. Murakami earned an unprecedented $1.4 million advance in South Korea for his forthcoming novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, and according to an essay in the Asahi Shimbum, is single-handedly “responsible for triggering and fueling the Japanese literature boom in South Korea.”

     BuzzFeed has hired former McSweeney’s publicity director to head its new books section. Fitzgerald has yet to start the job, but he’s already getting a taste of what it might be like: On Wednesday, he was mocked by Gawker and the Atlantic for announcing that his section will not publish negative reviews. “He will follow what he calls the ‘Bambi Rule’… ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.’”

    Isaac Fitzgerald

    Isaac Fitzgerald

    William T. Vollmann tells Newsweek that should he ever win the Nobel Prize for Literature, it would “be fun to give some [of the money] to prostitutes.”

    Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch tops the list of Amazon editors’ top books of 2013.

    One of the best things we’ve read this week is New York Magazine book critic Kathryn Schulz’s essay on how she came to love (and loathe) Twitter. After months of not really using the site, Schulz became addicted in 2010, after she started tweeting for fun, rather than to promote her book. The rest is history: “One evening in December, on the train home from a literary event, I tweeted a handful of imaginary book-band mash-ups: Pale Arcade Fire. Rabbit, Run DMC. When Bad Things Happen to Good Village People. A stranger tweeted back at me: Jane Eyre Supply. Ha! I thought. This is fun.”

    The Observer sends an immersive journalist to see what life is like for NYU students who live inside the university’s Bobst library.

  • “Lacks discipline,” “the greatest mind ever to stay in prep school,” and “not a good novelist” are just a few of the barbs Norman Mailer directed at his contemporaries.

    Graphic novel imprint Fantagraphics has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $150,000 by Dec. 5 or face the possibility of having to roll back its 2014 publishing lineup. The company’s finances were put in jeopardy last summer, following the death of publisher Kim Thompson. Thirteen books planned for the spring and summer of this year did not come out as a result, and the publisher is now struggling to recoup losses.

    Unless a buyer emerges before November 25, literary start-up Small Demons will be forced to close, sources tell the Los Angeles Times. Launched about three years ago, the site “catalogs the places, music, food and drink, people, books, artworks, and other objects that appear in a single book—then links them to the other books in which they appear.” The idea was that these products would then be hooked into e-commerce marketplaces, so readers would easily be able to buy, say, a novel or film or a song mentioned in a particular book, such as David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest or Patty Smith’s Just Kids.

    Julian Peters's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

    Julian Peters’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

    On Monday, Toronto mayor Rob Ford admitted to having smoked crack, and in the process brought some additional publicity to Robyn Doolittle’s forthcoming book about Ford, Crazy Town. The book is now scheduled to be released in February—a month ahead of schedule.

    We’re not sure why any indie bookstore would ever take Amazon up on this offer, but under a new initiative, shops that carry Kindles will get 10 percent of revenue off e-book purchases for two years after a customer buys a Kindle in their store. Business Insider’s Jay Yarow remarks, “We suppose 10 percent of revenue is better than nothing, but this seems like a suicide mission for any bookstore that signs up.”

    Here are the first nine pages of illustrator Julian Peters’s graphic rendition of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

     

  • November 6, 2013

    While her Facebook-founding brother continues to spread the gospel of social media, Randi Zuckerberg is making a name for herself by writing cautionary books about the dangers of living online. Her first book, Dot Complicated, is a “cross between memoir and how-to guide” about navigating the social internet, and her latest effort is a children’s book about “about a young girl called Dot who discovers the fun of playing outside when her mother takes away her tablet, laptop, cellphone, and desktop computer. “

    One of Robert Walser's microscipts

    One of Robert Walser’s microscipts

    Moby Lives reprints the totally charming form letter Margaret Atwood sends out when declining to blurb a book. Explaining why she no longer blurbs, Atwood writes on her website: “Publishers and writers often send me manuscripts with a request that I read the book and give them a quotable quote to use on the back cover. It takes four to six hours to read the book, and I get 10 or so of these requests a week. Multiply 5 hours times 10 requests and you get a 50-hour a week job.”

    The music website Pitchfork is about to launch a magazine-style mobile app called “Pitchfork Weekly.”

    On November 15th, a new exhibit on the handwritten works of Emily Dickinson and Robert Walser will open at the Drawing Center in New York. While Walser, the younger of the two, was likely unaware of Dickinson’s work, they had a lot in common: “Walser wrote in tiny, inscrutable script on narrow strips of paper using an antiquated German alphabet that was long considered indecipherable. Similarly, Dickinson fitted her multifarious poetic fragments to carefully torn pieces of envelope or stationery, which were discovered among her posthumous papers.” This is the first time that Dickinson’s manuscripts and Walser’s microscripts will be displayed in a museum.

    Courtesy of The Toast—with a hat tip to Emily Gould—here are some delightful jokes about male novelists.

    Minnesota indie press Graywolf talks to the New York Times about the press’s history, the difficulty of publishing poetry, and what the editors look for in unsolicited manuscripts.

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