• January 28, 2016

    If the work of Franco Moretti so far represents the limit of your understanding of the statistical analysis of literature, get ready for the denizens of Poland’s Institute of Nuclear Physics, who have been busy discovering fractals and multifractals in most of our major works. Though, perhaps a little churlishly, they note that the “fractality of a literary text will in practice never be as perfect as in the world of mathematics.”

    The Washington news director for Bloomberg Politics, Kathy Kiely, has resigned because she feels the company would be severely hampered in any serious attempt to cover a presidential run by its multibillionaire owner Michael Bloomberg: “You can’t cover the circus,” she pointed out, “unless you can write about one of the biggest elephants in the room.”

    The Intercept wonders whether The Onion will tone down its Hillary Clinton coverage now that her “biggest fan and financial supporter” effectively has a controlling stake in it.

    Rebekah Brooks

    Rebekah Brooks

    And here’s yet another heartwarming media tale: Rebekah Brooks, back at the helm of Rupert Murdoch’s British operation after losing a few years to the vast phone-hacking scandal, has now appointed Angus McBride, the lawyer who managed to get her cleared of all criminal charges, as in-house counsel for News UK. It’s unusual, of course, for a criminal defense lawyer (apparently one of Britain’s best) to take on such a role at a company—but, to each according to his need.

    It’s really a shame for those sharing this kind of news on Facebook that Reactions, the new “like” button that will “expand the range of Facebook-compatible human emotions from one to six,” isn’t quite ready yet.

    Powerhouse Books is being sued by the New York Times over its use of cover images for David Shields’s War Is Beautiful, a book that attacks the Times’s aestheticized war photography, and it seems the publisher is now suing Shields himself. Several people have criticized the Times’s decision to bring this lawsuit (or “hissy fit,” as one law professor described it). And they’re not the only ones questioning the paper’s priorities: Its public editor has written disapprovingly about news going underreported when “enough Times firepower somehow has been found to document Hillary Clinton’s every sneeze, Donald Trump’s latest bombast, and Marco Rubio’s shiny boots.”  

    Still, we’re glad the Times found room for the story of the windmill-tilting theater director who has coaxed Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (“It would take 45 minutes,” he points out, “just to explain what the novel is about”) into a five-hour stage play.

    Meanwhile, the latest translation by Natasha Wimmer, the translator of 2666 who has become, the Times notes, “something of a tastemaker in contemporary Latin American literature,” is of Sudden Death, a novel by the prizewinning Mexican writer Álvaro Enrigue in which Caravaggio and Quevedo play tennis with a ball made from the hair of the executed Anne Boleyn. Asked about the book’s period setting, Enrigue, who notes that he’s spent the last few years (turbulent ones for Mexico) in the “protective womb” of New York City, said: “We live in a world that demands explanation. And fiction has the capability to offer explanations for things. I work with history because I come from a country that has a tremendous thirst for reality. It is desperate to understand what the hell happened in recent years.” Tonight at the New York Public Library, Enrigue will be in conversation with Rivka Galchen.

  • January 27, 2016

    While Arianna Huffington may no longer be treating Donald Trump’s campaign as more entertainment than politics, Trump himself evidently does view it as a media story. Announcing that he planned to skip Thursday’s Republican debate after a stand-off with Fox News (over the network’s refusal to replace Megyn Kelly as moderator), he said: “Let’s see how much money Fox is going to make on the debate without me.”

    Much to everyone’s chagrin, it seems that David Bowie had better things to do than write his memoirs.

    James Fenimore Cooper

    James Fenimore Cooper

    Today Library of America launches a new twice-monthly column, The Moviegoer, that celebrates films based on classic American literature. First up is a piece on Michael Mann’s The Last of The Mohicans by Michael Sragow, who quotes the director calling James Fenimore Cooper’s book “a whitewash of land grabs and cultural imperialism.” Mann, Sragow writes, “thinks that he has turned his back on Cooper. What he’s really done, perhaps, is to liberate Cooper from himself.” There are columns to come on The Age of Innocence, The Maltese Falcon, The Innocents (the 1961 adaptation of Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw”), and one by the writer Harold Schechter about true crime in American cinema.

    New York has a profile of Jim Rich, editor-in-chief of the Daily News, that discusses the newfound popularity of its front page: “We don’t shy away from the controversial issue,” Rich says. “You’ve seen publications on the right, but there’s a vacuum on the middle left on these issues, a consistent, strong voice, and I like to think we’re doing a decent job of filling that void.” The piece also notes that the News is now selling prints of its covers, and that if all else fails, that might be one way a tabloid paper could hope to stay in business.

    An unfinished Beatrix Potter story, “The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots,” will be published later this year, complete with angular drawings by Quentin Blake, best known for his work as Roald Dahl’s illustrator.

    And, a still more adorable development: For the more adventurous Jane Austen fan, Hot Topic apparently has a new clothing and lingerie line inspired by the soon-to-be-released Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

  • January 26, 2016

    Few things are more pleasing than when the news delivers the kind of twist we expect from a best seller: Congratulations to Planned Parenthood, after a grand jury declined to indict anyone from the organization, choosing instead to bring charges against the members of an anti-abortion group who had attempted to entrap them.

    The group that owns The Guardian, whose financial position turns out to be much weaker than it previously appeared, has announced that it will slash its budget by 20 percent in order to stop losing money within the next three years. It will also, apparently, “align editorial and commercial operations to harness higher-growth membership and digital opportunities.

    Tense usage in Ellie award winners, Burt Helm and Max Chafkin

    Tense usage in Ellie award winners, Burt Helm and Max Chafkin

    Burt Helm and Max Chafkin of the Rewrite podcast have made an only glancingly scientific but still delightful study of what it takes to win a National Magazine Award, complete with a data-driven prediction for next week’s winner. Too late, this time around, for aspirants to make use of their analysis of the ideal length, tense (they demonstrate, with the help of a handsome pie-chart, that “the present tense appears to be going out of style”), month of publication, or number and type of swear words. But there’s always next year.

    There have been continued attempts to cut down this year’s to-read list into something a little more manageable: Bomb asked a few writers (including John Keene, Justin Taylor and Dawn Lundy Martin) which books they’re most looking forward to, and Wired expressed excitement about just ten forthcoming titles, including novels by Don DeLillo, Dana Spiotta, and Alexander Chee, as well as nonfiction by Roxane Gay and Bookforum co-editor Chris Lehmann.  

    The Torist, the dark web’s first literary magazine, launched this past weekend, and its editors hope among other things “to swim against the current popular conceptions of anonymity and encryption.”

    Tomorrow evening you may want to head to BookCourt and hear Garth Greenwell in conversation with Hilton Als. If, that is, you’re not committed to being named the Ultimate Bibliophile at the Strand’s “uniquely competitive” literary trivia night.

  • January 25, 2016

    Rachel Kushner

    Rachel Kushner

    Jeff Feuerzeig’s documentary Author: The Real JT Leroy Story had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, and Amazon quickly acquired the film over the weekend. Laura Albert, the woman who pretended to be Leroy (and fooled a lot of people), attended the premiere, and told the audience that she is (surprise) working on a memoir.

    The New York Times has now been publishing online content for twenty years.

    Janet Malcolm does not think much of Jonathan Bate’s biography of Ted Hughes. Malcolm—who has written brilliantly about psychoanalysis and about Hughes and his wife, Sylvia Plath—eloquently describes the peculiar hostilities running through Bate’s book: “Bate wants to cut Hughes down to size and does so, interestingly, by blowing him up into a kind of extra-large sex maniac.” Later, she points out, “Bate’s cluelessness about what you can and cannot do if you want to be regarded as an honest and serious writer.”

    Phyllis Nagy, who wrote the screenplay for Todd Haynes’s Carol, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, is creating a new series based on Rachel Kushner’s first novel, Telex from Cuba.

    At Bookforum, ex-Mormon horror writer Brian Evenson, discusses his new book, the brutality of his stories, and how he plays tricks on his audience: “You, as a reader, don’t really know what’s happening until it’s quite a bit too late…”

  • January 22, 2016

    Leon Wieseltier

    Leon Wieseltier

    The New Republic’s well-known former literary editor Leon Wieseltier, who apparently “laughed loudly” on the record when asked if he planned to buy back the soon-to-be-abandoned TNR, is instead going into business with Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, on a new literary journal. (New York magazine’s post about this, incidentally, includes a delightful parenthesis about another of Jobs’s media side-projects, OZY Media, “curiously named after the Shelley poem ‘Ozymandias’ — you know, the one about the face-planted statue of a formerly important king: ‘Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!/No thing beside remains…’ Apparently team OZY finds this a useful team-building notion.”)

    After selling the Financial Times and its stake in the Economist Group, Pearson, the British publisher that for now still owns 47 percent of Penguin Random House, will be cutting four thousand jobs.

    Adrian Chen, who can strike fear into the heart of online trolls while giving everyone else a bit of hope about the redemptive possibilities of social media, is joining the New Yorker as a staff writer. Just recently he told the Longform podcast that as a freelancer the “pace of stories that I’m doing is not super sustainable, just, you know, these two stories… took most of two years,” and that he’d been staying afloat by writing for TV. So it’s lucky for readers that he’s found a model that will allow him to keep explaining the internet’s dark corners (and no doubt much else besides).

    But the business plan for a writer over the long haul must surely still be to become David Sedaris.

    Asymptote has a translation of a strange little text by Sybille Lacan (a writer and translator who died in 2013) about the experience of being Jacques Lacan’s child: “We knew we had a father, but fathers were not there, apparently. For us, Mother was everything: love, security, authority. An image of the period that remains fixed in my memory, as though I’d preserved it in a photograph, is the silhouette of my father in the doorway, one Thursday when he’d come to see us: immense, swathed in a vast overcoat, he was there, appearing burdened already by who knows what weariness. A custom had been established: he would come to Rue Jadin once a week for lunch. He called my mother ‘vous’ and addressed me as ‘ma chère.’ My mother, when she spoke of him, would say ‘Lacan.’ She had counseled us then, at the beginning of the school year, when we had to fill out the ritual questionnaire, to write down the word ‘Doctor’ in the blank asking for Father’s profession. In those days, psychoanalysis was hardly distinguished from charlatanism.”

    The New York Times’s “Modern Love” column is now to be a podcast, which might not sound very exciting, until you know that Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander will be first up to do a dramatic reading.

  • January 21, 2016

    A campaign called Stop Hate Dump Trump has been launched by a large group of notables, including Angela Davis, Cindy Sherman, and Cornel West, who are criticizing both the Trump campaign and the media responsible for “normalising Trump’s extremism by treating it as entertainment, by giving it inordinate and unequal air time and by refusing to interrogate it or condemn it.”

    Eileen Myles

    Eileen Myles

    Joanna Rothkopf has interviewed Eileen Myles about her presidential campaign in the 1990s, in which she “exhibited more political integrity than anyone currently running.” It’s a good opportunity to reread her inspired campaign letters, too. But let’s not forget that (thanks to Jedediah Purdy) our tradition of the poet-politician is still alive and well in Sarah Palin.

    Should be easy for Bernie Sanders to keep perspective on the Democratic nomination when either way he’s already made it into People magazine.

    Grace Coddington, inadvertent star of The September Issue, is stepping down as creative director of Vogue after twenty-eight years. (The new “at large” version of her job sounds quite appealing, though, as she’ll keep an office and an assistant at the magazine, but have a little more time for projects like a sequel to her book.)

    Geraldo Reyes, head of Univision’s investigative unit, says that, pace Sean Penn, traditional journalists were offered interviews with Chapo Guzmán, too. Reyes himself claims to have turned the cartel boss down twice, in 2013 and again last year, because of Guzmán’s demand for approval of the results. Guzmán is evidently serious about his brand management: After Reyes’s interview-less investigation was broadcast in late 2013, a source revealed that El Chapo “had projected the Univision show on a big screen installed outdoors at one of his mountaintop camps so his bodyguards could watch it. [D]ozens of Guzmán’s employees cheered on several occasions during the broadcast—especially the part detailing his first jailbreak in 2001.”

    Win some, lose some: Gawker has found a new investor, but it’s also become the subject of yet another lawsuit.

    A stage version of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, now on in Boston starring Nick Offerman, hopes to make it to Broadway soon.

  • January 20, 2016

    Spanish broadcaster Univision has bought a substantial stake in the satirical media company The Onion for something approaching $200 million, which, as Bloomberg’s Brooke Sutherland notes, would put The Onion’s overall value at around $500 million: “To put that in perspective, it’s twice what Jeff Bezos paid for the Washington Post in 2013. You read that right.” To Sutherland that’s a sign that print may really be on its last legs after all.

    Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan has a point-by-point rebuttal of Jonathan Chait’s “case against Bernie Sanders” in New York magazine, ending with the suggestion that people should “vote for the candidate whose positions you actually agree with.”

    Gawker itself, meanwhile, in preparation for its legal battle with Hulk Hogan, is for the first time trying to raise some quick venture-capital cash.

    And Japan will no longer have to do without Buzzfeed, which is opening a branch there in partnership with Yahoo.

    Lord Weidenfeld, a publishing titan of the old school who cofounded Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1949 (”early successes,” The Bookseller recalls, “included Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Isaiah Berlin’s The Hedgehog and the Fox and James Watson’s The Double Helix”), has died at ninety-six.

    Nominations for the Edgar Awards (named for Poe and won in years past by the likes of Raymond Chandler and John Le Carré) are up. There’s also a nonfiction category that this year includes an account of Dashiell Hammett’s years as a real-life private eye and a book of Ross Macdonald’s correspondence with Eudora Welty.

  • January 19, 2016

    C. L. R. James

    C. L. R. James

    At an event yesterday in Harlem marking Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Chris Rock read from James Baldwin’s famous letter to his nephew. And Viewpoint magazine has reproduced a fascinating letter by C. L. R. James, author of the landmark study of the Haitian Revolution The Black Jacobins, about his 1957 meeting with King, their discussion of tactics in the Montgomery bus boycott, and “the always unsuspected power of the mass movement.”

    The finalists for the National Book Critics Circle awards have been announced, including Vivian Gornick and Margo Jefferson in autobiography, Colm Tóibín, Maggie Nelson, and Ta-Nehisi Coates in criticism, and Paul Beatty, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Valeria Luiselli in fiction. The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing went to the Washington Post’s Carlos Lozada, and Wendell Berry, the Kentucky novelist, poet, essayist, and environmental activist, received a lifetime achievement award.

    Penguin Random House is the latest company to announce that, in an attempt to improve its record on diversity, it will no longer require its job candidates to hold a university degree.

    Among the minor consequences of the thaw in US relations with Cuba, apparently, is a move to help preserve a trove of Hemingway’s books and papers that have deteriorated over “years of hot, humid Caribbean weather” in the writer’s house near Havana.

    Tomorrow night at Book Culture, Doug Henwood will launch My Turn, his book on Hillary Clinton.

  • January 18, 2016

    Adelle Waldman

    Adelle Waldman

    In “The World’s Longest Out-of-Office Message,” Choire Sicha explains why he’s taking a sabbatical from The Awl. One reason: “I’ve taken on various roles and learned a lot about small businesses. But small businesses do things eccentrically. Independent media definitely does things eccentrically. I’d like to go look at how other people do things, maybe try on new ways of being. Then I’m going to steal all these ideas and use them here. :)” While on leave, Sicha will continue to share (with Alex Balk) the company’s voting rights, so he will “maintain the  privilege of weighing in on the big decisions” at the site.

    Adelle Waldman, author of the novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., has written an essay considering the ways that fiction writers depict love in their work. Novelists, she writes, “seem to lean to one or the other of two poles: the notion of love as a profound, mysterious attraction, or the idea of it as a partnership with a like soul, a person uniquely capable of understanding one’s inner life.” There are, she points out, “many reasons that women might have gravitated more toward the latter.”

    In China, five booksellers have recently disappeared, and each of them was part of a company called Open, which has  published books critical of the country’s communist government. Now, Open has decided to halt its publication of dissident Yu Jie’s Xi Jinping’s Nightmare, which is deeply critical of the Xi regime.

    Selections of Dave Hickey’s Facebook posts have been published as a book of aphorisms titled Dust Bunnies.

    An interview with Lee Boudreaux, the editor of a new self-titled imprint at Little, Brown. “Books can be long, with tangents, strange interludes, a weird backstory. There are no rules. But when I go in and edit I read to make sure whatever that strange thing is we have done it with the right balance. Things have to add up, the velocity needs to be there, you’ve got to have that quality of language and some forward movement at every stage even if it’s not what we think of as ‘plot.’”

    Early last fall, the Huffington Post learned that the US was secretly negotiating with Iran to exchange prisoners. But they waited to publish the story until now. Ryan Grim, the site’s Washington bureau chief, explains why: “For years, a journalistic convention has held, more or less, that hostage and prisoner swap talks ought not to be reported on if doing so risks upending the negotiations. When a member of the media is involved, especially a well-respected one like Rezaian, the pressure to stay quiet becomes much greater.”

    Bestselling author Philip Pullman has resigned from his position at the Oxford Literary Festival, complaining that the festival doesn’t pay the writers who participate. Says Pullman: “The principle is very simple: a festival pays the people who supply the marquees, it pays the printers who print the brochure, it pays the rent for the lecture halls and other places, it pays the people who run the administration and the publicity, it pays for the electricity it uses, it pays for the drinks and dinners it lays on: why is it that the authors, the very people at the centre of the whole thing, the only reason customers come along and buy their tickets in the first place, are the only ones who are expected to work for nothing?”

  • January 15, 2016

    C. D. Wright

    C. D. Wright

    The poet C. D. Wright—whose books include Cooling Time (2005) and the award-winning One with Others (2010)—died earlier this week. Her book Shallcross is scheduled for publication in April. At the New Yorker, Ben Lerner reflects on Wright’s “peculiar brilliance,” and writes that “she was part of a line of mavericks and contrarians who struggled to keep the language particular in times of ever-encroaching standardization.” And at the Awl, poet Mark Bibbins posts Wright’s “only the crossing counts”: “It’s not how we leave one’s life. How go off / the air. You never know, do you. You think you’re ready / for anything; then it happens, and you’re not.”

    The Huffington Post has decided it will voluntarily recognize its employees’ union representation, the Writers Guild of America, East. WGAE has held union drives at many media companies over the past year, including Salon, Vice Media, and Gawker. An internal survey of Gawker employees taken by the union gives a glimpse of what contract negotiations at the site might look like. According to the document (which was leaked to the International Business Times), Gawker employees value editorial freedom above all other priorities, and have shown little interest in arguing for a “just cause” provision in their contract.

    The American Society of Magazine Editors has announced its finalists for the 2016 National Magazine Awards. Some of the notable nominees are Patrick Radden Keefe for his New Yorker story about Gerry Adams and the IRA, “Where the Bodies Are Buried” (this the third consecutive year that Radden Keefe has been nominated); three columns by the imprisoned journalist Barrett Brown for the Intercept, including “Stop Sending Me Jonathan Franzen Novels”; Rebecca Solnit’s Easy Chair column for Harper’s Magazine, including “Abolish High School”; and Slate’s incredible multimedia feature, “The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes,” by Andrew Kahn and Jamelle Bouie. With so many outstanding stories to choose from, we can’t pick a favorite, but we will say this: Kathryn Schulz’s terrifying story about the inevitable big earthquake in the Pacific Northwest still keeps us up some nights.     

    Susan Glasser, Politico’s editor, is reportedly talking with the New York Times about becoming a contributor.

    LaVoy Finicum, one of the members of the Oregon militia that has taken over a national wildlife refuge, is the author of the post apocalyptic novel, Only by Blood and Suffering, which the author describes as “a stirring, fast-paced novel about what matters most in the face of devastating end-times chaos.”

    The Library of America has just published two of Henry James’s memoirs in a new volume, Henry James: Autobiographies. In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik makes an interesting comparison between the labyrinthine (and occasionally exhausting) sentences of James and those of David Foster Wallace: “Wallace . . . mentions James not at all in his critical writings, and though one might take his qualifications and circlings back as Jamesian, they are employed to discriminate not more finely but to discriminate not at all—to get it in, rather than to pare it down. In a time of linguistic overkill, like the nineteen-forties, we look to literature for a language of emotional caution; in an age of irony, we look for emotional authenticity.” (For more on James’s memoirs, see Andrew Solomon’s 2002 review in Bookforum.)

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