• March 1, 2017

    Michelle and Barack Obama

    Barack and Michelle Obama have sold the world rights to their forthcoming books to Penguin Random House. The deal was made after an intense bidding war in which offers from Penguin, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster reportedly went over $60 million, with the times reporting that the number “stretched well into eight figures.” Although the amount has yet to be confirmed, it will likely be a historic amount for memoirs from a president and first lady—Bill and Hillary Clinton’s post-presidency books sold for a combined $18 million. The Times notes that President Obama’s memoir “could provide a chance to reframe and highlight the former president’s legacy, at a moment when a new Republican administration is making an effort to dismantle some of his signature legislation.”

    Ursula K. Le Guin, Junot Diaz, and Ann Patchett were among fourteen new members inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters this week. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith were added as honorary members. The official induction ceremony will be held in May.

    BuzzFeed investigates how “hyperpartisan political news gets made.” After looking at nearly identical articles on Kellyanne Conway’s alleged TV ban from websites Liberal Society and Conservative 101—which are owned by the same parent company—Craig Silverman concludes that “all it takes to turn a liberal partisan story into a conservative one is to literally change a few words.”

    At Der Spiegel Veit Medick profiles Alex Jones, the Infowars host and conspiracy theorist who claims to talk regularly on the phone with Trump. Among other things, Jones believes that gay marriage is a conspiracy “to get rid of God,” and that “the government possesses weather weapons it can use to create artificial tornadoes.” According to Medick, “there is no subject on which Jones does not have his own version of the truth to offer, one supported by no facts whatsoever.”

    CNN has confirmed that they will attend this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The news organization will bring journalism students as their guests instead of celebrities. In a statement, CNN said, “We feel there is no better way to underscore our commitment to the health and longevity of a free press than to celebrate its future.”

    Tonight at Symphony Space, authors and actors pay tribute to Clarice Lispector.

  • February 28, 2017

    August Wilson

    Former Boston Globe theater critic Patti Hartigan has signed on to write a biography of August Wilson. Hartigan talked to the New York Times about the difficulty of capturing all aspects of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright in a single book. “I want it to be a legacy biography and a literary biography,” Hartigan said. “I want it to show him as a human being and an artist. But I don’t have 2,000 pages.” The tentatively-titled August Wilson: The Kiln in Which He Was Fired will be published in 2019 by 37 INK, an imprint of Atria Books.

    The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, whose work lead to the publishing of the Panama Papers, has chosen to separate from its parent organization, the Center for Public Integrity. The decision was motivated by looming staff cuts ordered by CPI. “Our team had achieved what had never been achieved before,” said ICIJ director Gerard Ryle. “And here I was, facing the prospect of having to lay off journalists that were the heroes of this story.” The group is currently gathering funding from a variety of sources.

    The Times travels to Kiev to report on StopFake, the Ukrainian news program where “everything is a lie, from start to finish.” The program has spent the past three years debunking fake news stories being spread by the Russian government, such as false reports of ISIS training camps opening in the country or Russian-speaking children being crucified. In that time, the show’s “headlines have declared what did not happen and what was not said, and the heroism or villainy of people who never existed.”

    At the Paris Review blog, Albert Mobilio surveys an exhibition of poet and composer Jackson Mac Low’s art at the Drawing Center in New York. “Mac Low—whose texts were often meant to be performed and, truly, were best comprehended in that manner—has staged the words on these ‘pages’ as carefully as a director blocks a complex scene,” Mobilio writes.

    Tonight at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, Lauren Elkin celebrates the release of her new book, Flâneuse.

  • February 27, 2017

    The New York Public Library has announced the finalists for this year’s Helen Bernstein Book Award, which honors journalistic works of nonfiction. Nominees include Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America, Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, and Charlotte McDonald-Gibson’s Cast Away. The winner will be announced in May.

    Walter Mosley will release a new novel with Mullholland Books, an imprint of Little, Brown. Down the River Unto the Sea follows a Brooklyn private investigator as he investigates “the case of a Black civil rights activist convicted of murdering two city policemen.” The book will be published in February 2018.

    Eileen Myles

    Eileen Myles talks to The Rumpus about her new poetry record, open mic nights, and feminism. Myles discusses the “corralling” that happens to women writers when they are interviewed about their work. “Men are allowed to carry on,” she says, “and women are always asked how they carry on as women.”

    Deadline Hollywood reports that fifty years after it was first published, the film rights to Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” have been optioned by Sinatra’s daughters, Nancy and Tina. The siblings plan to have Talese and Nick Pileggi write the screenplay.

    On Saturday, President Trump tweeted that, unlike every president in the last thirty years, he will not be attending the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The news came one day after Bloomberg decided to cancel their afterparty, an event that their usual co-host, Vanity Fair, had already opted out of earlier this year. BuzzFeed reports that CNN is currently debating whether or not to attend the dinner.

    At the New Yorker, Evan Osnos looks at past presidents’ relationships with the press and compares it to our current commander-in-chief’s war against the media. After the president excluded CNN, the New York Times, and other outlets from a press gaggle on Friday afternoon, it Trump’s treatment of the press might be the most extreme of any other president. Even though some have gone to great lengths to avoid the media—Teddy Roosevelt once had a tumor removed on a friend’s yacht in order to keep the news quiet—Osnos writes that “almost every President has adopted a fruitful, if tense, mutual dependence with the press. Each needs something from the other, and both sides know it.”

    Tonight at the Brooklyn Public Library, Finks author Joel Whitney and filmmaker Immy Humes discuss “the notable publishers and authors whose reputations were tarnished” after working with the CIA.

  • February 24, 2017

    Clive James

    Poet and critic Clive James will publish a sequel to his 2015 short-poem collection, Sentenced to Life. Written after a diagnosis of leukemia, his first book was a reflection on death. But James says that his upcoming book, Injury Time, will be much more upbeat. “When I wrote Sentenced to Life, everyone thought I was dying,” he told The Guardian. “But the new drugs are working and the danger now is that I’ll bore everyone to death.” Injury Time will be published by Picador in May.

    Brooklyn Magazine talks to Roxane Gay about success, Twitter, and pulling her book from Simon & Schuster. Gay said that while it “sucks to pay back the advance” for her cancelled book, How to Be Heard, she has since received over twenty offers on the manuscript.

    LitHub offers a literary guide to the Oscars, which will air this Sunday. Over half the nominees for Best Picture this year are based on novels, and Raoul Peck’s documentary on James Baldwin is up for Best Documentary.

    For the first time in a decade, the New York Times has bought TV advertising time in order to launch a marketing campaign “centered around the Times’ pursuit of ‘The Truth.’” The thirty-second ad will run during Sunday’s Academy Awards broadcast.

    Former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta is joining the Washington Post’s Opinions section as a columnist. In a press release, the paper said that Podesta “will provide commentary and analysis on the intersection of politics and policy, the Trump administration and the future of the Democratic Party.” The Post has also hired former Wall Street Journal reporter Devlin Barrett to cover law enforcement and national security.

    USA Today is the most recent news outlet to offer a secure website for government whistleblowers. The newspaper decided to create the new system after President Trump said he planned to investigate recent leaks from his administration. “Investigative reporting is core to our mission,” said Chief Content Officer Joanne Lipman. “This tool will improve our ability to connect sources and journalists to better hold public officials and civic institutions accountable.”

    In the Times’s “By the Book” column, Chelsea Clinton said that she doesn’t have a specific book that she recommends for the president—she just recommends he read any book at all. “In one of Pérez-Reverte’s Captain Alatriste novels,” she remembered, “one of the characters has a maxim: ‘Never trust a man who reads only one book.’”

  • February 23, 2017

    Helen Oyeyemi. Photo: Tom Pilston

    PEN America has announced most of their 2017 Literary Award winners. Helen Oyeyemi’s What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours won the Open Book Award, and Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City won for nonfiction. Winners of the other prizes will be announced at the end of March.

    The Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalists were announced yesterday. Nominees include Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, Emma Cline’s The Girls, Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs To You, and Frances Wilson’s Guilty Thing.

    The Daily Beast has hired conservative journalist Lachlan Markay as White House reporter. Markay was most recently a writer at the Washington Free Beacon, and will focus on “Trump’s intermingling of business and political interests” in his new job.

    CNN reports that Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway has been kept away from cameras for the last week after giving false information about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s resignation. Conway denied that the White House was keeping her from television appearances. “I’ve been invited on shows every day,” she said. “I’m trying to focus on other pieces of my portfolio.” White House officials have since denied the report, saying that Conway has been “deeply involved with the joint session speech this week taking up a lot of her time.”

    At The Intercept, Sam Biddle investigates the relationship between Peter Thiel’s company, Palantir, and the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. Biddle writes that although Thiel only became a mainstream political figure after the last election, his company “has worked for years to boost the global dragnet of the NSA and its international partners, and was in fact co-created with American spies.”

    The Russian Foreign Ministry has launched a website to combat fake news stories that they claim are being spread by Western media. Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova noted that the website won’t be able to post every instance of fake news, because then they would “have to upload 90% of the internet.” The first round of articles, including a Bloomberg story about Russian hackers possibly interfering with the French election and a New York Times piece on a secretly-launched Russian cruise missile, are accompanied not by a breakdown of false information in each piece, but by one line: “This article puts forward information that does not correspond to reality.”

  • February 22, 2017

    More than sixty writers and artists have signed an open letter from PEN America to President Trump denouncing his executive order on immigration. Signatories include Zadie Smith, Philip Roth, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, among others. “Not only will such a policy prevent great artists from performing,” the letter states, “but it will constrict the interchange of important ideas, isolating the U.S. politically and culturally.” Most of the writers and artists who signed the letter are less than hopeful that it will have any effect on the president. Novelist Jeffrey Eugenides compared the letter to “shouting into a void.” New Yorker staff writer George Packer said that he doesn’t expect high-level Trump officials to pay attention, “but perhaps it will give heart to officials lower down, and to foreigners who wonder if America is losing what makes it great.”

    Milo Yiannopoulos resigned from Breitbart yesterday. At a press conference, Yiannopoulos refuted claims that he endorsed pedophelia, but said that it “would be wrong to allow my poor choice of words to detract from my colleagues’ important reporting.” Yiannopoulos said he still plans to release Dangerous with another publisher and is working on an independent media venture of his own. BuzzFeed has collected writers’ reactions to the news, including Roxane Gay, who pointed out that Simon & Schuster don’t deserve praise for dropping Yiannopoulos’s book. “They were fine with his racist and xenophobic and sexist ideologies,” Gay writes. “A great many people were perfectly comfortable with the targets of Milo’s hateful attention until that attention hit too close to home.” At Entertainment Weekly, James Hibberd compares Dangerous to other controversial books—like O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It and Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho—that were seen as “a potential bestseller that’s also considered untouchable.” Polis Books publisher Jason Pinter said, “Never say never—I’d be shocked if the book doesn’t come out one way or another in the next six months,” but also noted that he, “for the record, is not interested.”

    Tom Hanks

    Tom Hanks will publish a book of seventeen short stories, “each having something to do with a different typewriter.” The actor’s first collection, Uncommon Type: Some Stories, will be published by Knopf next October.  

    Room author Emma Donoghue is writing a children’s book. The Lotterys Plus One follows a lottery-winning family and will be released in March.

    The New York Times T Magazine takes a look at Bernard-Henri Levy’s house, where he writes most of his books by hand. Levy says that besides his books, he has few precious possessions. The only object that merits note is a medal awarded to him by Alija Izetbegovic, president of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1993. “It’s the only medal I’ve ever accepted from a state government, including my own, probably because it’s given to so few people,” Levy said. “And because I thought I really deserved it.”

    Tonight at the Brooklyn Public Library, Andy Tepper talks to Peter Kimani and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o about their latest books.

  • February 21, 2017

    After outrage last weekend over a recent video showing Milo Yiannopoulos speaking positively about pedophelia, the Breitbart editor’s book with Simon & Schuster imprint Threshold was cancelled. Yiannopoulos had already pushed the release date to June so that he could include a chapter on the outrage his book deal generated. In a short statement, the company wrote, “After careful consideration, Simon & Schuster and its Threshold Editions imprint have cancelled publication of Dangerous by Milo Yiannopoulos.”

    In addition to his cancelled book, Yiannopoulos’s comments might also have put him on the outs with Breitbart. Washingtonian reports that numerous employees are preparing to leave if Yiannopoulos is not fired. “The fact of the matter is that there’s been so many things that have been objectionable about Milo over the last couple of years,” said one anonymous editor. “This is something far more sinister.”  

    Jim Rutenberg profiles Alex Jones and his conspiracy website, Infowars. Rutenberg writes that many of President Trump’s talking points—the evils of mainstream media, voter fraud, and ignored terrorist attacks—come directly from Jones and his videos. Most recently, Jones has been arguing that Michael Flynn’s resignation is part of a “counter coup” from the CIA that wants to oust Trump. “If Watergate had broken in this media environment,” Rutenberg writes, “would President Richard Nixon have had to resign? Would enough people have believed it?”

    At the Washington Post, Paul Farhi wonders if the White House’s refusal to answer press inquiries before deadline is “indifference of a strategy to discredit journalists.” Margaret Sullivan examines whether Trump will use the Espionage Act to force journalists to reveal the identities of administration whistleblowers. Sullivan reminds us that the First Amendment doesn’t cover everything, and that Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to answer questions about what he would do if a reporter was subpoenaed. “When it comes to the so-called ‘reporter’s privilege,’ case law is notoriously shaky,” she writes, “and Justice Department guidelines enacted in recent years are well-intentioned but toothless.”

    Liane Moriarty. Photo: Nic Walker

    The Guardian talks to Liane Moriarty, whose 2014 novel Big Little Lies was recently adapted into an HBO miniseries. Moriarty says that she has only recently become widely-read in her home country of Australia; before that, the majority of her readers were in the US. “Some Australian readers get cranky,” Moriarty said. “They say, ‘We knew her from the beginning’—but I sold well in America first, for sure.”

    In honor of the Mall of America’s twenty-fifth anniversary, the shopping center is offering a five-day writing residency. In addition to a $2,500 honorarium and a hotel stay, the winner will “spend five days deeply immersed in the Mall atmosphere while writing on-the-fly impressions in their own words.”

    Tonight at McNally Jackson in New York, Mary Gaitskill talks to Cara Hoffman about her new novel, Running.

  • February 20, 2017

    Neil Gaiman announced that he is currently working on a sequel to his novel, Neverwhere, twenty years after it was first published. Gaiman said that Neverwhere “was this glorious vehicle where I could talk about huge serious things and have a ridiculous amount of fun on the way.” Now, he says that his work with refugees and observations of the world around him made him feel “that it actually was time to do something.” The sequel, The Seven Sisters, does not have a confirmed release date.

    Neil Gaiman

    The New York Times reports that Michael Dubke has been hired as the new White House communications director. Dubke is the co-founder of the public affairs firm Black Rock Group and has long worked as a Republican strategist. Maggie Haberman writes that “Mr. Dubke was one of the few people who was interested in the job who did not somehow disqualify himself during the campaign or the transition with deep public criticism of Mr. Trump.”

    The Times profiles Jake Turx, the Jewish reporter who was shouted down by Trump at his press conference last week for asking a question about the increase in antisemitism in the US. The paper describes him as “a singular presence in the briefing room: a young Hasidic Jew with side curls tucked behind his ears and a skullcap embroidered with his Twitter handle.” Turx was shocked by Trump’s reaction to his question, which he had padded with many qualifications that he did not believe Trump himself was antisemitic. In a phone interview, Turx said last Thursday “was a day I wish we could have done over.”

    At The Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance writes that Facebook’s plans to combat fake news and improve media literacy is actually “an expansion of Facebook’s existing threat to the news industry.” LaFrance points out that by asking Facebook users to help train the site’s algorithms and artificial intelligence, Mark Zuckerberg’s is putting the job of editing and curation on readers, rather than employing editors to do the work. “If journalism is an indispensable component of the global community Zuckerberg is trying to build,” she writes, “he must also realize that what he’s building is a grave threat to journalism.”

    BuzzFeed announced a new feature on Friday that will help readers escape their social media echo chambers. The website’s new feature, “Outside Your Bubble,” will appear at the end of popular articles and show curated posts from other platforms. “We’re all living in filter bubbles, on social media in particular,” BuzzFeed editor in chief Ben Smith told Bloomberg in an interview. “Anybody who works in news has spent the last year watching how social media affects people’s views of the world and can close you off to dissenting views.”

  • February 17, 2017

    This year’s PEN World Voices Festival will focus on “gender and power in the age of President Trump.” The festival usually highlights a country or continent, but PEN America executive director Suzanne Nossel said that the current political situation necessitated a topic change. “Amid visa bans and an America First foreign policy,” she said, “PEN World Voices is now an important antidote to an America at risk of only talking to itself, fanning baseless fears, and damaging relations with allies around the world.” The 2017 festival take place in New York during the first week of May.

    Mark Zuckerberg

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released an open letter yesterday detailing his thoughts on globalization, isolationism, and what role Faebook can play in creating a more connected world. When Facebook was founded, he writes, the idea of globalization as a positive force was not controversial. “Yet now,” Zuckerberg writes, “across the world there are people left behind by globalization, and movements for withdrawing from global connection.” Zuckerberg concludes with a commitment to continue increasing worldwide connections and stop the spread of misinformation. “Our job at Facebook is to help people make the greatest positive impact while mitigating areas where technology and social media can contribute to divisiveness and isolation,” he writes.

    Citing multiple investigations of Russian interference in the election and current administration, Bloomberg reports that the Kremlin has told state-run media to publish fewer positive stories on President Trump. Konstantin von Eggert, a TV Rain commentator, said “They won’t pour buckets of criticism on Trump, they just won’t talk about him as much.”

    Poynter analyzes Trump’s latest “anti-media meltdown,” in which he continued to spread the lie that his election was “the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan,” among other claims. Of the press conference, James Warren writes, “It constituted what at minimum is a quadrupling down—or might it be quintupling down?—on a transparent strategy to portray the press as an opposition party.”

    At Axios, Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen write that “the media—often, but not always, with an assist from anti-Trump career government employees—is the new U.S. Oversight Committee.” Putting a more positive spin on Steve Bannon’s claim that the media is the opposition party, Allen and VandeHei write that the Democrats have dropped the ball, and the media has picked it up. “Trump and senior strategist Steve Bannon are clearly right about the media being the opposition,” they write. “What was once a useful foil for Trump is becoming a real danger to his ability to control the national conversation—and govern.”

    London publisher John Blake claims to have an unpublished memoir by Mick Jagger, but says the rock star’s management won’t allow the book to be published—a claim that they also would neither confirm nor deny to the Times. The memoir, possibly written with the help of a ghostwriter, covers Jagger’s early years through 1980, and came into Blake’s possession through a friend. In his own essay at The Spectator, Blake writes that “the financial potential is almost J.K. Rowlingesque.” In an interview with the Times, he said, “It’s extraordinary. I compared it to, like, the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

  • February 16, 2017

    Philip Pullman

    Philip Pullman announced a new trilogy, “The Book of Dust.” The still-untitled first installment follows Lyra Belacqua, the heroine of his first series, “His Dark Materials,” and will be published in October.

    Jessica Jones actress Krysten Ritter has written a novel. Her psychological thriller, Bonfire, will be published in November by Crown Archetype.

    In the wake of Michael Flynn’s resignation, President Trump, as well as his main right-wing media supporters, have avoided discussing the administration’s ties to Russia and focused instead on the leaks themselves. Trump took to Twitter to say that “the real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy.” On multiple Fox News shows, guests reiterated the president’s statement—Laura Ingraham described the situation as “death by a thousand leaks.” At Breitbart, an article said that the controversy “raises troubling questions about the role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the intelligence services.”

    After vehement denials from the Trump administration that Sean Spicer will be replaced, CNN investigates where the rumors are coming from. Although Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus call the leaks “scuttlebutt from lower level staff,” numerous unnamed sources say that Kellyanne Conway is the source. “She’s clearly guiding a press narrative that he’s not up for the job,” said one anonymous source. “It’s becoming abundantly clear that Kellyanne is making Sean’s job impossible.”

    At The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald acknowledges that the intelligence agents who released information about Flynn’s conversations broke the law, but that their crimes were justified because the information needed to be known to the public. “The mere fact that an act is illegal does not mean it is unjust or even deserving of punishment,” Greenwald writes. “Oftentimes, the most just acts are precisely the ones that the law prohibits.”

    Gizmodo Media Group has started buying Facebook ads that target government employees in an effort to encourage them to leak information to their new website, TellOnTrump.com. John Cook, Gizmodo’s head of investigations, told the Wall Street Journal that the site wants federal employees “to know that if they see or know about something they think is newsworthy, we are here for them.” Gizmodo also plans “to purchase bus shelter ads near certain government agencies in Washington, D.C.”

    Tonight at the 92nd Street Y, Colson Whitehead and George Saunders on their most recent books, The Underground Railroad and Lincoln in the Bardo.

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