• 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.

  • March 3, 2016

    Longlists have been announced for the Orwell Prize for Journalism, and for the much more enticingly named Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils.

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan’s archives, which are much more extensive than you might expect, have just been purchased by several institutions in Oklahoma. The New York Times writes: “Classics from the 1960s appear in coffee-stained fragments, their author still working out lines that generations of fans would come to know by heart. (‘You know something’s happening here but you,’ reads a scribbled early copy of ‘Ballad of a Thin Man,’ omitting ‘don’t know what it is’ and the song’s famous punch line: ‘Do you, Mister Jones?’) The range of hotel stationery suggests an obsessive self-editor in constant motion.”

    Technology site CNET has begun publishing new fiction monthly under the oddly chosen rubric Technically Literate.

    It’s to be assumed that, despite his withdrawal last time, Donald Trump will make an appearance at tonight’s Fox News Republican debate, and the New York Times has been speaking with the moderators beforehand: “I’m a fight fan, and when you watch a referee in a match, even if the fighters are tangled up, if they’ve each got a free arm and are still punching, the ref will let them keep fighting,” Chris Wallace said. He’s also quoted as saying: “I thought that if you could see someone acting like a president on the stage, you have better eyesight than I do. . . . Having said that, in the end, if the candidates want to act like damn fools, I’m not going to stop them.” Fox boss Rupert Murdoch, on the other hand, seems all ready to rally behind Trump.

    Another heartwarming image: Apparently a group of Republican legislators have their own book club, where they invite lobbyists and donors to discuss the merits of Ayn Rand and the like over lunch.

    Melissa Harris-Perry, “an African American scholar in an industry that has diversity problems [and] a host whose topical focus for four years on MSNBC has been race and gender,” has refused a parting deal with the network that would have prevented her talking about the problems there via a “non-disparagement clause.” “They wanted us to cover politics in the narrowest sense,” CNN Money quotes her as saying. “I told my team, we can’t allow our own show to go off air and then provide racial cover by having me continue to host the show so people see the little black girl up there.”

    Ahead of International Women’s Day next week, journalist Melissa Gira Grant lists her recommended reading on sex work and reproductive labor, including Kathi Weeks’s The Problem with Work and Samuel R. Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue.

    And you won’t want to miss these previously unpublished early works by Annie Dillard.

  • March 2, 2016

    The New Yorker’s long-serving managing editor, Silvia Killingsworth, will be taking over as editor of the Awl, and while she’s at it, will be in charge of a relaunch of the Hairpin.

    Nine writers, including Helen Garner, C. E. Morgan, and Hilton Als, received one of Yale’s Windham-Campbell Prizes this week: Always good, as the program director Michael Kelleher points out, to get a call “out of the blue” offering you $150,000.

    Young Jean Lee

    Young Jean Lee

    Among the winners is Branden Jacob-Jenkins—who said ”I only wish everyone alive could get a phone call like the one I just received”—who has also received one of this year’s PEN literary awards, as has the brilliant playwright Young Jean Lee. And Toni Morrison has been given PEN’s Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.

    After a false start a couple of years ago, Hachette Book Group is now to buy the publishing section of Perseus, increasing by half the number of new books it brings out every year.

    Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s beautiful essay on James Baldwin, taken from a forthcoming anthology, The Fire This Time, is up at BuzzFeed.

    The latest issue of Words Without Borders is out, featuring an intriguing range of Moroccan writing and some Uyghur poetry.

    After Super Tuesday, you may want to revisit John Oliver’s take on Donald Trump.

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