• June 28, 2016

    An algorithm built to predict which books will become bestsellers has awarded a perfect score to Dave Eggers’s The Circle, a dystopian novel about a sinister Google-like company that hijacks the time and free will of its employees and the wider world. Using “cutting-edge text-mining techniques” developed by Jodie Archer, a former publisher, and Matthew Jockers, a co-founder of Stanford University’s Literary Lab, the model trawled through 20,000 novels to isolate elements of plot, character, and style that appeal to the broadest segment of the reading population. Archer and Jockers expected the algorithm to nominate Lee Child, John Grisham, or Nicholas Sparks; Eggers, whose Circle was not a bestseller, would seem to indicate machine-bias. “The algorithm appears to have winked at us all,” said its creators. “We weren’t sure whether we should take a sledgehammer to it, or buy it dinner.” Read more about their quest in The Bestseller Code, which comes out in September.

    In the wake of Omar Mateen’s shooting of forty-nine people at the Orlando gay club Pulse, poet-novelist-essayist Eileen Myles demands that we take a good look at America’s gun problem and who is most endangered by it. “When we talk about gun control I think we need to put the focus explicitly on protecting us from us and not from ISIS. We have guns, we live here, we find it so easy to kill,” she writes. “Something is so very wrong with America when the right to bear arms is not a freedom but a curse. We are killing ourselves, and we are killing the most vulnerable ones among us.”

    Suki Kim

    Suki Kim

    “In 2011, armed with a book contract, I went undercover to work as an ESL teacher at an evangelical university in Pyongyang,” writes Suki Kim in the New Republic. Kim’s 2014 book, Without You, There Is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, was a daring work of investigative journalism—“As I taught, I lived in a locked compound under complete surveillance: Every room was bugged, every class recorded. I scribbled down conversations as they happened and buried my notes in a lesson plan. I wrote at night, erasing the copy from my laptop each time I signed off, saving it to USB sticks that I carried on my body at all times”—marketed as a memoir, a bit of chicanery more often inflicted on women writers than on men. “I was being moved from a position of authority—What do you know?—to the realm of emotion: How did you feel?

    Translator Susan Bernofsky points out that most authors who are translated into English and published in the US are white.

    In a new video featuring Alexis Bledel of Gilmore Girls fame, Michelle Obama discusses the education organization Let Girls Learn and chooses a book to read during her upcoming travels: Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend.

     

  • June 27, 2016

    Lydia Davis

    Lydia Davis

    Jonathan Coe—author of What a Carve Up!, The Rain Before It Falls, and The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim—has been named “France’s favourite British author” and an officer in France’s Order of Arts and Letters. Coe is calling the honor “bittersweet,” following the Britain’s vote to leave the EU last week: “Yes, it’s a bittersweet feeling to have had this recognition from France in the week that Britain has turned its back on the rest of Europe,” says the novelist. “But it’s more important than ever, now, that British writers build a close relationship with their European readers, and try to remind them, among other things, that the views of those who voted to leave the EU . . . don’t tell the whole story about the UK and its people.” Meanwhile, other authors have shared their feelings about Brexit on Twitter. Neil Gaiman: “Dear UK, good luck. I’m afraid you’re going to need it.”

    Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti—the ninety-seven-year-old founder of City Lights Publishing who championed many Beat writers—has finished the first draft of To the Light House. It’s not a straightforward memoir, but according to the poet, it’s “the closest thing to a memoir” he’ll ever write.

    Bill Cunningham, the New York Times photographer and the subject of the documentary Bill Cunningham New York, has died. At the New Yorker, Hilton Als remembers Cunningham, writing, “His camera made black beauty and female beauty democratic. Through his lens, we were not anthropological artifacts so much as part of the life of the city he made his home, a place where he could be privately open about his interest in most things, but I think especially men of color, who still rarely get to be memorialized without it becoming a big deal, a statement.”

    Editor and author Blake Eskin (A Life in Pieces: The Making and Unmaking of Binjamin Wilkomirski) has penned a response to a photo of Amy Schumer’s photo shoot in the May issue of Vanity Fair. In one of the shots, the comedian is wearing a t-shirt that says “No Coffee No Workee,” which, as Eskin points out, is “an old caricature of Chinese immigrant speech.” She also appears in a Vogue magazine video that features “sound effects from a kung-fu movie” and ends with a gong. Eskin notes: “I would like to see Amy Schumer acknowledge her participation in reinforcing these stereotypes, even if it wasn’t her idea. Beyond that, I wish the folks over at Condé Nast could create an editorial environment that can save them from making jokes that they don’t fully understand.”

    At Words without Borders, Lydia Davis considers some of the thornier questions faced by translators. For instance, does she think it’s a good idea to correct mistakes that exist in the original. “There are errors in Proust,” she responds. “I forget the specifics now, but he refers in one spot to four friends on a trip to Italy together and in another spot specifies three. But I believe it is very important not to tamper with the content of the original in that way, much as one might be tempted. One of the obligations of a translator is to try to reproduce something like the way the text is experienced by a native reader. Mistakes and all . . . I would, though, want to say something about the mistake in an endnote.”

  • June 24, 2016

    “The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it” reads a Washington Post headline about Brexit, which passed. In response to the news, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would resign in October, and the stock market plunged. “Some British voters say they now regret casting a ballot in favor of Brexit. ‘Even though I voted to leave, this morning I woke up and I just—the reality did actually hit me,’ one woman told the news channel ITV News. ‘If I’d had the opportunity to vote again, it would be to stay.’”

    Corey Lewandowski, the recently fired campaign manager for Donald Trump, has been hired by CNN as a political analyst. Lewandowski, a Trump loyalist who has had a number of ugly run-ins with journalists, once threatened CNN reporter Noah Gray for leaving the approved media area at a Trump rally, telling Gray to go “inside the pen, or I will pull your credentials. Media goes in the pen.”  

    In the aftermath of the Peter Thiel–funded campaign to bankrupt Gawker media with a lawsuit, other magazines are anxiously looking over their shoulders for billionaires with a grudge. Mother Jones feels threatened by conservative businessman Frank VanderSloot, who reportedly pledged $1,000,000 to parties interested in suing the magazine after a “three-year quest to punish [Mother Jones] for reporting on his anti-LGBT activities” failed to shut them down.

    Jezebel published a long and sordid history of Maxim, until last year the largest circulation men’s magazine in the country, by one of its former editors. Theodore Ross, now an editor at the New Republic, served at Maxim under Kate Lanphear, a feminist style-icon briefly appointed editor-in-chief  in 2014 by Maxim’s new owner Sardar Biglari, who made a fortune from the restaurant chains Steak ’n Shake and Western Sizzlin’. As Ross recounts, “[S]omeone asked [Biglari] about his strategy for reinvigorating the magazine. Biglari responded with a story about a signature Steak ’n Shake offering, which he said he had created: the Wisconsin Buttery Steakburger, which comes with two patties, cheddar cheese, grilled onions, and butter melted over the top….A buttery bread cheeseburger—that was the magazine.” Lanphear’s edgy and ambitious overhaul of this lad mag was probably doomed from the start.

    Michael Herr

    Michael Herr

    Hundreds of pop stars—among them Britney Spears, Ricky Martin, Selena Gomez, and two Jonas brothers—joined the editors of Billboard in an open letter imploring Congress to pass sensible gun control measures.

    The writer and former war correspondent Michael Herr died. Herr was the author of Dispatches, published in 1977, and the novel Walter Winchell. “Dispatches is one of the seminal works of the twentieth century,” said Knopf Chairman Sonny Mehta, “and the most brilliant treatment of war and men I have ever read.”

  • June 23, 2016

    James Baldwin's former home in Provence

    James Baldwin’s former home in Provence

    Peter Manseau, the author of One Nation Under Gods: A New American History, asks: “Is Trumpism its own religion?” “Trump, a biblical illiterate, has succeeded so far because his followers believe he is a transformative figure who can bring about national salvation. In an election year full of surprises, perhaps the most surprising of all is that Trump voters are motivated by a kind of faith: They believe in the man, and in his promise that all their losing will come to end.”

    On Twitter, Hillary Clinton has revealed herself to be a succinct and witty literary critic: “Trump has written a lot of books about business—but they all seem to end at Chapter 11.”

    The James Baldwin Society has called upon “friends in social justice” to help it halt plans to transform the author’s former house in Provence into luxury condos. “Our mission is to protect, acquire and renovate Baldwin’s home in Provence and eventually to create a residency for artists and writers as well as a center for progressive thought and culture…. It was once a gathering place for artists, for people of color, for writers, for intellectuals, for radicals, for people outside the sexual mainstream, for revolutionaries and for lovers. We plan to make it so again.”

    Thanks to the success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway show Hamilton, which won eleven Tony Awards, two books about the founding father have been climbing the bestseller lists. Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, which inspired the musical, has reached number 8 on the USA Today bestseller list—its highest ranking since its publication in 2004. Meanwhile, Hamilton: The Revolution, a book about the show by Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, has risen to number 26.

    Amanda Petrusich, the author of Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records, has written an essay on the closing of the NoHo record store Other Music. “There are no record bins anymore—no little plastic signposts signifying content, broadcasting a set of principles, musical and otherwise. Genre itself—or, more specifically, genre affiliation as a means of self-identification—feels like another End hovering in the atmosphere this week. No one is asked to choose one affiliation at the expense of another. Instead, it is perfectly normal, even expected, that a person might have a little bit of everything stacked up in her digital library. The idea of ‘Other Music’ as it was conceived in 1995 is unknowable now.”

    At the New York Times, graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel, novelist Justin Torres, and playwright Larry Kramer offer personal reflections on the importance of gay bars.

  • June 22, 2016

    A Hispanic man, identified only as “Miguel,” came forward as a lover of the Orlando shooter Omar Mateen to claim the attacks were less an expression of radicalized Islam than a grudge against gay Latinos. “This crazy horrible thing he did, it was a revenge,” said the man, who wore a mask and had his voice altered to appear on Univision. “I told the FBI, if you’re a terrorist and you really want to kill a lot of people, you don’t go to Pulse. . . . He hated gay Puerto Ricans for all the bad things they [did] to him.” According to the man, one bad thing was an HIV scare following an encounter with a Puerto Rican man who was HIV-positive. Before the massacre, Miguel found Mateen “adorable and sweet.”

    Citing James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor broke with the majority of the court in Utah v. Strieff, a case deciding whether evidence collected unlawfully by a police officer can be used as evidence in court. Read the full text of her dissent here.

    The Intercept reports that technology companies such as Facebook and Yahoo have been rejecting FBI requests for access to subscribers’ emails and browsing histories for years.

    Dan Brown

    Dan Brown

    Cracker of The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown has donated 300,000 euros to Holland’s Ritman Library, aka the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, as a token of gratitude, having relied on the library’s deep troves of Hermetica, alchemy, Rosicrucians, and Kabbala to research the many mystical themes of his novels. Brown announced the gift in a YouTube video in which the author emerges through a secret door—a revolving bookcase of all-Brown titles—in his own home library. “Few of [Brown’s] plots are as cunningly labyrinthine as his home in New Hampshire,” according to The Telegraph. “A large painting on a wall conceals the entrance to Brown’s study, which he calls the Fortress of Gratitude.” Brown’s gift will go toward the Ritman’s digitization project, which aims to make its recondite collections accessible to the wider world.

    Disney’s 3D computer-animated musical fantasy comedy movie Frozen, based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, returns to book form with a sequel. Journey to the Lights, to be published by Random House in July, finds Anna, Elsa, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven, plus a new addition named Little Rock, less concerned with eternal winter than with dim and dimmer Northern Lights.

  • June 21, 2016

    Despite his secret funding of lawsuits against Gawker Media, Peter Thiel will remain on the board of Facebook—a potential conflict of interest given Facebook’s increasing influence on web traffic to news and media sites. Mark Zuckerberg, who controls 60 percent of the board, cast the decisive vote to keep Thiel. The controversy is complicated: Gawker argues that its disclosure of Thiel’s sexual orientation in 2007 was a legitimate example of freedom of the press, while Thiel sees it as a private matter, and has sought—privately—to bankrupt the company. “Peter did what he did on his own and not as a Facebook board member,” Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg said of Thiel’s role in the lawsuits.

    Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, called Revisionist History, looks likely to become the next Serial. The podcast—part of a new listening series, Panoply, started last year by the Slate Group—examines past events Gladwell believes have been misinterpreted, and is predicted to draw 500,000 downloads per episode. Bloomberg’s Joshua Brustein examines the so-called Golden Era of Podcasting; you can listen to Gladwell’s first episode, “The Lady Vanishes,” here.

    Tumblr launches a new streaming feature today, to compete with Twitter’s Periscope, Amazon’s Twitch, and Facebook Live.

    Maggie Smith

    Maggie Smith

    In a digital era, should children still be taught how to form cursive’s weird capital G? Definitely, reports the New York Times. Handwriting stretches young brains—in particular, a region called the fusiform gyrus—in ways that typing does not. According to one scientist quoted in the article, “The letters they produce themselves are very messy and variable, and that’s actually good for how children learn things.”

    “Sometimes I forget that poetry can do real, tangible work,” says the poet Maggie Smith in an interview with Slate. “It’s a ‘machine made of words,’ after all, as William Carlos Williams famously wrote.” Smith’s poem “Good Bones”—“For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird. / For every loved child, a child broken, bagged, / sunk in a lake” are a few of its lines—has been widely shared on social media in the wake of the Orlando shooting. “I’m being retweeted in Welsh and French and other languages I can’t read,” Smith posted on Facebook. “I can’t even.”

    Cough and you’ll miss it—a word you’ve never heard and may never hear again. The World in Words podcast has a live taping at the New York Public Library tonight. The subject is endangered languages.

  • June 20, 2016

    The New York Times has an in-depth profile of Ho Pin, the publisher of Mirror Media Group. Based in Great Neck, NY, Ho’s Chinese-language list is a mixture of politically daring and just-plain-salacious books. “One of Mirror’s latest additions is a 334-page book about Chinese leaders and their offshore accounts that were uncovered by the Panama Papers only weeks earlier. Another book on its shelves is a 2009 volume that claims to depict the extramarital sex lives of China’s top leaders, including Mr. Xi.”

    Dave Eggers attended a rally for Trump. “When I parked, I glanced at the car next to me, and found that a young couple in casual business attire was engaged in casual amorous activity,” Eggers writes. “It was the first, but not the last time, that it was clear that a good portion of the audience saw the rally as not purely a political event, but as . . . an entertainment, a curiosity, an opportunity to sell merchandise and refreshments, a chance to do some late-afternoon groping in the parking lot.”

    Lois Duncan

    Lois Duncan

    Leonardo DiCaprio, nominated for an Academy Award for his starring role in The Wolf of Wall Street in 2014, will testify in a case against the film, which sent up the office culture of the stock brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont. A lawsuit brought by Andrew Greene, a former executive of the firm, alleges that the minor character of Nicky “Rugrat” Koskof—played by the actor P. J. Byrne and not DiCaprio—is based on Greene and portrays him as a “criminal, a drug user and a degenerate.”

    “These days, just about all the exciting work in the murder-for-entertainment business descends not from Arthur Conan Doyle or Hammett but from Highsmith, who has had many more daughters than sons.” In The Atlantic, Terrence Rafferty argues that women crime writers have outstripped their male counterparts.

    Lois Duncan, best-selling author of I Know What You Did Last Summer and other classics of the YA genre, died last week at 82. “Life continues,” Duncan wrote in Stranger with My Face, “and we all of us keep changing and building, toward what we cannot know.” “Sit down every day and DO IT,” she said about writing. “And when you’re not writing, READ.”

    The Neu Jorker, a new magazine with a ready-made storied tradition, hits the digital stand.

  • June 17, 2016

    Charles Aaron and Erik Roldan have put together a three-and-a-half-hour-long playlist of Latin dance songs and club hits “to honor the Orlando victims, who were just looking for a place to dance and feel free that night.”

    Phil Klay

    Phil Klay

    At a cocktail reception last night, Johnny Temple, the publisher of Akashic Books, announced some of the highlights of this year’s Brooklyn Book Festival. BKBF events will begin taking place on September 12, and will culminate on September 18, which will feature more than three hundred authors—including Joyce Carol Oates, Sherman Alexie, Margaret Atwood, Nicole Dennis-Benn, and Phil Klay—in a variety of panel discussions and reading events. You can find a list of writers who have been confirmed so far here.

    Garrison Keillor has announced his retirement from Prairie Home Companion, but he still has plans to work: According to the New York Times, he has “lined up meaty post-Prairie projects, among them columns for the Washington Post, a screenplay, and a book.”

    The Financial Times has released the longlists for its Emerging Voices Awards.

    Surely eliciting hissing noises from many a Powell’s shopper, Amazon has announced that it will build its third brick-and-mortar bookstore in Portland. An AmazonJobs posting lushly describes its fantasy of the ideal Assistant Store Manager: “You are Right a Lot when it comes to reading customers and don’t use a one-size-fits-all approach to creating a great customer experience. You warmly welcome anyone who comes into the store and then enjoy using your judgment to adapt to the needs of each individual customer. … Customers are drawn to you because you are approachable, authentic, humble, kind, pleasant and confident. You don’t assume anything about the customer’s knowledge on products; rather, you ask great questions to better gauge what the customer wants. You make book recommendations that surprise and delight the customer, and can demonstrate how to use our devices in a simple and accessible way.”

    Dissent editor David Marcus and Shellie Sclan have put together Modernism in the Streets, a new collection of writings by the late, legendary New York intellectual Marshall Berman, whose books included All That is Solid Melts into Air and Adventures in Marxism. The new collection will be released by Verso in November.

  • June 16, 2016

    Dan Savage

    Dan Savage

    In an interview with Chris Hayes, author and columnist Dan Savage reflected on politicians’ responses to the massacre in Orlando, and stated: “Donald Trump is the enemy of the LGBT community.”

    In a conversation at the New York Public Library with author Masha Gessen, Svetlana Alexievich, the author of Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets and the winner of the 2015 Nobel prize, described the traumatic childhood experiences in the former Soviet Union that led her to specialize in oral history. “I grew up in a village after the war and in the village there were almost only women” because so many men had been killed in the resistance, Alexievich said. “I do not remember any questions in my childhood other than questions about death and about loss, and it was clear that the books that filled the house were not as interesting as the conversations outside.”

    A number of freelancers have joined forces in a Facebook thread to criticize OUT magazine (and its  editor in chief Aaron Hicklin) for failure to pay writers. According to journalist-novelist Tim Murphy (whose Christodora is out this fall), one of the freelancers who spoke out, Hicklin “emailed me saying essentially: ‘How could you malign me like that?’ And I wrote back essentially: ‘Because it’s true, I have the emails to prove it, and you’ve had it coming for a LONG time.’”

    In Elle magazine, Zadie Smith fervently and eloquently recommends up-and-coming essayist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah. “Her writing on black culture has a vertical depth; she writes about the history of African Americans in the US, but it’s never dry or academic as there’s so much love in it. . . . It’s uncommon to read a voice that mixes anger and joy so beautifully and with so much skill. She doesn’t write rants, she writes eloquent, appreciative tirades. If she thinks Kendrick Lamar is a genius she will go to any rhetorical length to convince you of the same. The energy in her writing comes from a place of aesthetic delight.”

    Gregory Rabassa—who translated Julio Cortázar’s novel Hopscotch, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Mario Vargas Llosa’s Conversation in the Cathedral, among other books—has died. In a Paris Review interview published in 1981, Garcia Marquez paid homage to the translator: “My books have been translated into twenty-one languages and Rabassa is the only translator who has never asked for something to be clarified so he can put a footnote in. I think that my work has been completely re-created in English.”

    In case you forgot, today is Bloomsday.

  • June 15, 2016

    “At its peak, the Orlando Sentinel had more than 350 journalists in the newsroom. On Sunday, as it ramped up to cover the nation’s deadliest mass shooting, it had about 100. It’s still the largest news organization in Orlando.” Poynter has a moving story about how breaking news gets reported by newsrooms contending with budget cuts and slashed manpower. The Sentinel spent the first part of the weekend covering the murder of the singer Christina Grimmie, and has, in recent years, done in-depth reporting on the trials of George Zimmerman and Casey Anthony.

    A Gallup poll shows Americans’ confidence in newspapers to be at an all-time low, and the National Newspaper Association is shuttering its national ad sales company. The Financial Times reports a finding from the Reuters Institute: more than half of those who get their news online are finding it via Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

    Microsoft added LinkedIn to its professional network: Bill Gates’s brainchild has acquired the square blue platform for $26.2 billion. The deal gives Microsoft access to reams of resumés and the personal data of LinkedIn’s 106 million active users. The New York Times reports that Microsoft and LinkedIn executives broke the ice, established trust, and sealed the deal after they “shared something with the group that was not on their personal LinkedIn profile.”

    The 123-year-old Brontë Society is riven by internecine tensions, reports The Guardian. “They seem to have split into two factions, the ‘modernisers’ and the “conservatives.’”

    ramones

    The Ramones

    Please Kill Me—Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s excellent oral history of punk—turns twenty this year, and to celebrate, Grove Press is putting out a special anniversary edition with additional photos and a new afterword. Meanwhile, McNeil and McCain are planning their comeback tour: “We figured the best way to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk and the fortieth Anniversary of the Ramones playing CBGB’s for the first time, would be to take the show on the road . . . reading from the Twentieth Anniversary Edition, as well as telling stories, playing great tunes as guest DJs, and partying up a storm!”

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