• March 17, 2016

    The writer-director Michael Mann is launching a publishing imprint, Michael Mann Books, in order to work with a stable of authors (who’ll sometimes share the cover credit with him) on fiction and nonfiction books that he’ll also develop for film and television.

    Zadie Smith

    Zadie Smith

    The New Yorker is previewing its new podcast, The Author’s Voice, in which, as of next week, you’ll be able to hear writers reading their own stories from the magazine. They’re pulling out all the stops for this first sample episode, which boasts Zadie Smith doing an American accent (or several) as she reads “Escape from New York,” her 9/11 fantasia featuring Michael Jackson, Liz Taylor, and Marlon Brando, as well as an author with an even more instantly recognizable voice, Tom Hanks.

    James Bennet, who after ten years recently agreed to leave his post as editor in chief of The Atlantic and return to the New York Times to run its editorial page, is now thought to be in the running as a successor to Dean Baquet, the Times’s executive editor.

    If anyone hasn’t yet had their fill of Elena Ferrante, her children’s book, The Beach at Night (a spin-off from her novel The Lost Daughter, which, Ferrante has noted, was the original kernel of her Neapolitan series), will appear in English later this year.

    Tonight at the New School, the National Book Critics Circle Awards will be presented: You can read appreciations by board members of the thirty finalists at the Critical Mass blog, including today’s entry, by Karen Long, on Paul Beatty’s novel The Sellout.

  • March 16, 2016

    After last night’s results, John Cassidy considers the prospect of a fight for the presidency between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

    Anita Brookner

    Anita Brookner

    Novelist and art historian Anita Brookner, who won the Booker Prize in 1984 for Hotel du Lac, has died. The novelist Hilary Mantel has written that “Brookner is the sort of artist described as minor by people who read her books only once,” whereas, in Mantel’s view, the “singular quality of each, as well as the integrity of the project, is established.” Brookner told The Paris Review, of her autobiographical first novel, A Start in Life, published when she was fifty-three: “My life seemed to be drifting in predictable channels and I wanted to know how I deserved such a fate. I thought if I could write about it I would be able to impose some structure on my experience. It gave me a feeling of being at least in control. It was an exercise in self-analysis, and I tried to make it as objective as possible—no self-pity and no self-justification. But what is interesting about self-analysis is that it leads nowhere—it is an art form in itself.”

    Reading can be revoltingly indulgent. Writers should not necessarily shirk their responsibility to make it so.” Full Stop has the first of a two-part interview with Tony Tulathimutte, author of the novel Private Citizens.

    On the New Yorker’s website, Nicolas Niarchos has a piece on the poet Keston Sutherland: “I get the sense that he is trying to convey that his writing, too, is a product, like a carton of orange juice at a supermarket. He makes himself into the puppet that poetry has made of the words he uses, and the puppet that capitalism has, he believes, made of literature. He is aware, in other words, of the violence that he is doing to language.”

    A woman in Massachusetts has begun a Kickstarter campaign in which she offers to read some of the works of Jonathan Franzen should funders be willing to bribe her $5,000 or more.

    This evening at NYU, writers and editors Jon Baskin (of The Point), Sarah Leonard (of The Nation), and Nikil Saval (of n+1) will participate in what promises to be a lively and insightful roundtable discussion about what it means to be a public intellectual today.

  • March 15, 2016

    A somewhat chilling article in the New York Times describes a firm called Jellybooks and its founder, who hopes to use data to transform book publishing, Moneyball-style. The company is working with publishers to examine in detail how people actually read their ebooks: “On average, fewer than half of the books tested were finished by a majority of readers. Most readers typically give up on a book in the early chapters. Women tend to quit after 50 to 100 pages, men after 30 to 50. Only 5 percent of the books Jellybooks tested were completed by more than 75 percent of readers.” And, it turns out, “business books have surprisingly low completion rates”—though it’s not clear just how surprising that actually is.

    The original manuscript of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon has turned up in a Zurich publisher’s archive and, according to Koestler’s biographer Michael Scammell, differs in myriad fascinating ways from the world-famous version.

    Meghan Daum

    Meghan Daum

    The Rumpus interviews Meghan Daum and Elliott Holt, editor of and contributor to Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, which is about to come out in paperback: Among other things, they discuss the project’s roots in a rather less measured magazine piece by Hanya Yanagihara, who was originally supposed to coedit the book with Daum but had to withdraw after selling her novel A Little Life.

    Nine staffers have been dropped by the Forward newspaper, which, according to its publisher, is currently “restructuring” in an effort to remain “the leading news organization for American Jews.”

    Paper Darts, a small Minnesota literary journal, is running a short fiction competition (entries of 1,200 words or less are due April 15) to be judged by the writer Roxane Gay.

    Tonight, New Yorkers can hear novelists Dana Spiotta and Joshua Ferris in conversation at McNally Jackson. Or at Dixon Place, there’s “Experiments & Disorders,” a “cross-genre” show starring Alexander Chee and Gerard Anthony Cabrera. Or, topically enough, you may want to attend Thomas Frank’s discussion, at Book Culture, of his essential new critique of the Democratic Party, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?.

  • March 14, 2016

    John Edgar Wideman

    John Edgar Wideman

    In an article published in Milan’s Corriere della Sera, the Italian writer and professor Marco Santagata claims that he has determined the true identity of Elena Ferrante. He writes that Ferrante is the pen name of Marcella Marmo, a professor at a Neapolitan university. According to Slate, Marmo has denied Santagata’s claim, and has pointed out that she is too “timid and reserved” to be such an bold writer. Ferrante’s Italian publisher has also denied that Marmo is Ferrante.

    Harper Lee’s estate will no longer allow the printing of inexpensive, mass-market editions of To Kill a Mockingbird.

    Author and Hollywood historian Neal Gabler argues that the shocking story about the Republican presidential campaigns isn’t “the rise of Donald Trump but how the GOP slowly morphed into a party of hate and obstruction.” Trump isn’t a surprise, says Gabler; he’s the fulfillment of the Republican Party’s increasingly hostile wishes. Novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson has also weighed in on the Donald, writing at The Guardian: “His supposed implausibility as a candidate actually sheltered him for months from scrutiny by the press, who nevertheless have showered him with attention. He is alarming as well as absurd, stirring and stoking the worst impulses in the electorate. But then this is only a darkening of the atmosphere we have lived in since Nixon, as fear and resentment began to be commodified very profitably by the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.”

    Novelists John Edgar Wideman and Peter Carey and poet Billy Collins were among those elected into the Academy of Arts this year.

    Music writer Jon Caramanica has devoted the latest installment of Popcast to two new books by New York Times critics: Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever and A. O. Scott’s Better Living through Criticism. The three authors talk about the books and raise questions about the meaningfulness of their trade: “Why be a critic? What good are critics? What’s the future for a critic, and for criticism?”

    With the help of a new Grove Press edition of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls, the managers of the author’s estate are hoping to market the cult classic novel to millennials. The introduction was written by Simon Doonan. Apparently, the publisher first offered this honor to Liza Minnelli, but she declined. Minnelli’s publicist explains: “Liza’s mother was famously fired from the movie of Valley, causing her a lot of stress.”

  • March 11, 2016

    Marilynne Robinson

    Marilynne Robinson

    The novelist Marilynne Robinson has her say on that “great orange-haired Unintended Consequence,” the nonfictional Donald Trump: He is “alarming as well as absurd, stirring and stoking the worst impulses in the electorate. But then this is only a darkening of the atmosphere we have lived in since Nixon, as fear and resentment began to be commodified very profitably by the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.”

    As the thaw between the US and Cuba continues, Publishers Weekly has called for an end to the embargo on books: “the Cuban people have not been able to read American authors for more than 50 years. American readers, meanwhile, have been denied access to the works of Cuban writers.”

    The poet and novelist Wendell Berry pleasingly flouts the New York Times’s By the Book rules this week: No, he will not choose a favorite genre, short story (“Picking one would slight the others and waste time”), or poem (“Of the ones I need, I need all”). Nor, for that matter, will he recommend a book for the president to read, nor name one that shaped his own life: “As the product of at least two parents, I hesitate to see myself as derived from one book.”

    And the Times sends its spies into the physical Amazon bookstore.

    Punch Hutton, Vanity Fair’s deputy editor and a veteran of seventeen years at the magazine, is stepping down. And the New Yorker has a new managing editor, Emily Greenhouse.

    Novelist Tony Tulathimutte commends the choose-your-own-adventure that is the humble preposition.

    At Dissent, Tim Shenk spoke with the cultural historian Thomas W. Laqueur about The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains, a book he has worked on for forty years.

    As of this week, Toni Morrison has given the first three of her six Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard. The series is entitled “The Origin of Others: The Literature of Belonging,” and the next lecture, “Configurations of Blackness,” will take place on March 22.

  • March 10, 2016

    Insights yielded in the ongoing trial over Gawker’s publication of a Hulk Hogan sex tape this week include the following: jokes between colleagues don’t hold up that well when explained on the stand several years later; Gawker isn’t too concerned with anyone’s privacy; the rest of America isn’t too concerned with Gawker and its ilk (“And what is The Hair Spin?” One lawyer inquired).  

    Elena Ferrante, Orhan Pamuk, Kenzaburō Ōe, and Eka Kurniawan are on the longlist for the Man Booker International Prize, whose previous winners include Philip Roth, Lydia Davis, and László Krasznahorkai.

    Joyce Carol Oates

    Joyce Carol Oates

    Nicolas Cage will direct and star in a version of Joyce Carol Oates’s novel Rape: A Love Story (which is to be renamed Vengeance: A Love Story).

    After a fourteen-year run, Bookslut founder Jessa Crispin has announced that she will be shutting down the online magazine and blog in May.

    Tin House has made available a fascinating conversation between the novelists Rachel Kushner and Dana Spiotta, both of whom will serve as faculty at their Summer Writing Workshop this year.

    The Atlantic has published a preview of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther series for Marvel.

  • March 9, 2016

    FiveThirtyEight analyzes Bernie Sanders’s surprise win in the Michigan primary, and what it may mean for the Democratic race: “If Michigan was just a fluke (which is possible), then tonight will be forgotten soon enough,” Harry Enten writes. “If, however, pollsters are missing something more fundamental about the electorate, then the Ohio and Illinois primaries could be a lot closer than expected. Either way, this result will send a shock wave through the press. Heck, I’m a member of the press, and you might be able to tell how surprised I am.”

    Meanwhile, Time notes that Ben Carson is still winning the race that really matters—for book sales, where it seems he is in the lead over Hillary Clinton by a margin of some 400,000 print copies.

    Maggie Nelson

    Maggie Nelson

    Maggie Nelson, who, with others including James Wood and Colm Tóibín, is in contention for the National Book Critics Circle award for a work of criticism (to be decided on March 17), spoke to Sasha Frere-Jones at the Los Angeles Times about her work, including The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial, which is about to be reissued by Graywolf. “I’m trying to dramatize the mind—my mind—in motion more than I am analyzing what that mind’s made of,” she says. “That’s why writing is so vulnerable-making (and exciting, I suppose)—whatever the content at hand, it’s really the shape and quality and rhythm of one’s attention that is eventually on display.”

    The Paris Review has announced the recipients of this year’s Plimpton Prize for Fiction—which went to David Szalay—and the Terry Southern Prize, awarded to Chris Bachelder for The Throwback Special, his comic novel, which has been serialized over several issues of the journal.

    This week in celebrity relics: The shirt worn by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (for one of the few scenes that departs significantly from the events of the novel), will be spending a few special months on these shores.

  • March 8, 2016

    The opening round of the Tournament of Books begins tomorrow.

    Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that refused its appeal, Apple will now be forced to pay out $400 million to ebook buyers who were affected by its illegal price-fixing.

    There is a funeral mass today for Pat Conroy, bestselling author of The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, who died on Friday.

    Michael Bloomberg

    Michael Bloomberg

    Michael Bloomberg, in a Bloomberg column, has ruled out a run for President, for fear of aiding the candidacy of Ted Cruz or Donald Trump: “I have known Mr. Trump casually for many years, and we have always been on friendly terms. I even agreed to appear on ‘The Apprentice’—twice. But he has run the most divisive and demagogic presidential campaign I can remember, preying on people’s prejudices and fears.”

    Personal letters from a recently unsealed archive offer new insight into the life of the novelist Doris Lessing.

    Staff at Verso and New Left Review compiled a reading list for International Women’s Day that includes everyone from Angela Y. Davis to Virginie Despentes to Audre Lorde to Claude Cahun.

    And the first episode of a new podcast, Left/Liberal, features a discussion with Rebecca Traister and Sarah Leonard on feminism and the Democratic primaries.

  • March 7, 2016

    Roxane Gay

    Roxane Gay

    Bill McKibben, the author of Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet and the founder of the environmentalist organization 350.org, laments the lack of attention paid to last week’s news about global warming: “Thursday, while the nation debated the relative size of Republican genitalia, something truly awful happened. Across the northern hemisphere, the temperature, if only for a few hours, apparently crossed a line: it was more than two degrees Celsius above ‘normal’ for the first time in recorded history and likely for the first time in the course of human civilization.”

    Last week, Roxane Gay, the author of Bad Feminist, spoke at St. Louis University. Before the talk, the Jesuit university’s assistant vice president requested that she not discuss abortion. She promptly rewrote her speech—and made abortion rights one of its main topics.

    PEN America has launched the PEN Equity Project, which will seek to address “the lack of equity in publishing for writers and publishing professionals of color.”

    Following Nancy Reagan’s death this weekend, Wonkette counteracts some of the hagiographic remembrances by digging up some gossip about the first lady from Kitty Kelly’s “very unauthorized biography.”

    Horror writer Peter Straub names his six favorite books.

    Novelist and professor Marilynne Robinson makes an eloquent plea to “save our public universities.” “From the perspective of many today,” she writes, “the great public universities (and many of them are very great) are like beached vessels of unknown origin and intention, decked out preposterously with relics and treasures that are ripe for looting, insofar as they would find a market, or condemned to neglect and decay, insofar as their cash value is not obvious to the most stringent calculation.”

    Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter is reportedly looking into becoming a Broadway producer.

  • March 4, 2016

    Poet and professor Matthew Zapruder is taking over as poetry column editor for the New York Times magazine as of this week. He takes pleasure in the idea that a poem placed in the magazine can “follow up on, refract, amplify, reconfigure, the language of culture and news. . . . The poem gets a chance to exist in a place that is not isolated or rarified. It gets to be a part of life, and we get to read it that way, too.”

    Adam Johnson has won this year’s Story Prize for Fortune Smiles, the collection that also won him the National Book Award (Johnson is the first to win both prizes for the same book).

    Edmund White

    Edmund White

    A new book collects the thoughts of memoirists about memoir, including this delightful insight from Edmund White, quoted in the New York Times: “In general, I try to be very honest in my memoirs. If I lose the friendship, so what? . . . On the other hand I sometimes say the best way to keep a secret is to publish it, since no one reads. My books aren’t indexed. So anyone who wants to know what I wrote about him has to read the whole thing.”

    An only ever so slightly chilling look inside People magazine’s dedicated Snapchat operation.

    And in his Baffler column, Chris Lehmann marvels at Vice Media’s new cable network and some of the “mind-stretching Borgesian glory” to be found therein.

    Some researchers have helpfully both identified the graffiti artist Banksy and, in the process, raised a few questions about the techniques apparently used to unmask serial killers.

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