• 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.)

  • January 14, 2016

    In the second media surprise of the week, Al Jazeera America, which employs hundreds of people, has abruptly announced that it will close down all operations in April.

    Eileen Myles

    Eileen Myles

    “As things get worse,” Eileen Myles says to Ana Marie Cox in an interview, “poetry gets better, because it becomes more necessary.” Myles also notes that “if the voters rose up with a write-in campaign, then of course” she would make a second run for the presidency. Seems fair to say we need her more than ever.

    The shortlist is up for this year’s “moronic, informative, all-consuming, fascinating, weirdly fun” Tournament of Books.

    The Los Angeles Times has appointed Carolyn Kellogg, a longtime contributor who launched its Jacket Copy blog, as its new books editor.

    And anyone still weeping over the demise of ESPN’s Grantland should cheer up: Its founding editorial director had already made the leap to MTV News (who knew?) and is apparently hiring at least five erstwhile Grantlanders there, as well as others including Pitchfork’s Jessica Hopper.

    “When the politics of representation have become so fraught, who gets to write about whom?”, asks Gideon Lewis-Kraus in his New York Times magazine portrait of Alice Goffman, the (white) sociologist whose book On the Run, about a group of young black men in West Philadelphia became the center of an acrimonious controversy last year.

  • January 13, 2016

    You can read the text of last night’s State of the Union address here.

    After considering candidates for nearly a year, the New York Times has chosen Jim Rutenberg (currently chief political correspondent for the Times magazine) as the successor to its beloved media columnist David Carr.

    And the new owner of the Village Voice is rehiring editor in chief Will Bourne, who quit a couple of years ago after only a few months because he was unwilling to fire more good people.

    Parul Sehgal

    Parul Sehgal

    Critic and Bookforum contributor Parul Sehgal has a new column in the New York Times Book Review, and begins with a piece on the delightful provocations of Bohumil Hrabal: “Virginia Woolf wrote that if a writer were free, ‘if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style.’ Is there a better description of the work of Bohumil ­Hrabal?”

    At Vox, Matthew Yglesias has a detailed account of the causes and significance of “TNRmageddon” under Chris Hughes, which includes this entertaining disclaimer: “The world of Washington, DC-based magazines and websites is incredibly incestuous, so I have no way of writing about this without stepping all over too many conflicts of interest to count. But some noteworthy ones include the fact that I applied for a job with the Peter Beinart–era TNR and didn’t get it after a disastrous job interview. I was recruited for jobs in both the first and second Foer eras. I used to work closely with Richard Just (who was editor between Foer stints) before he worked at TNR. I dated a TNR staffer for a while, was roommates with Spencer Ackerman at the time Foer fired him from TNR, and am very close friends with a current staffer at TNR. I also lived in the same dorm with Hughes for a year in college. All of which is to say that while my coverage of this can hardly be objective, it’s also pretty well-informed.”

    Media tycoon of media tycoons Rupert Murdoch plans to marry Jerry Hall.

    New York magazine asked a lot of people, including the writers Sheila Heti and Ta-Nehisi Coates, about their early breakthroughs.

    Tonight at Ace Hotel, there’s a reading party for the new issue of n+1.

  • January 12, 2016

    David Bowie, American Library Association

    David Bowie, American Library Association

    Writers from Hilton Als to Marlon James responded yesterday to the loss of the inimitable David Bowie, and many recalled the books he loved most. (In a 1998 Proust questionnaire, Bowie’s answers, respectively, to “What is your idea of perfect happiness?” and “What is the quality you most like in a man?” were “Reading,” and ”The ability to return books.”)

    Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes has announced that running a magazine (or finding “a workable business model” for one) is a lot harder than he’d hoped: “After investing a great deal of time, energy, and over $20 million,” he wrote yesterday in a memo to staff, he is giving up on the New Republic and plans to sell it.Vox, Vice, the Texas Tribune, Buzzfeed, ProPublica, and Mic embody a new generation of promising organizations — some for-profit, others non-profit — that have put serious, high-quality journalism at the core of their identities. The New York Times, The Atlantic, and other traditional outlets seem to have found business models that work for them. I hope that this institution will one day be part of that list. To get there The New Republic needs a new vision that only a new owner can bring.” The Wall Street Journal noted that TNR’s web traffic had dropped by more than fifty percent after the mass walkout of the old guard late last year, and hadn’t really recovered since, but it also quoted former editor Franklin Foer as saying that the magazine “has spent 100 years cheating death,” and may keep on doing so.

    Meanwhile, after five years at the helm of the Paris Review, Lorin Stein—who recalls thatWhen I told my sister I was quitting my job as a book editor to edit a magazine of stories and poems, she looked as if I’d said I was running away to join the circus: a tiny, doomed, irrelevant circus”—appears to be going strong.

    It seems Sean Penn may not have been Chapo Guzmán’s first choice to write about him: The New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe has an interesting piece about the El Chapo saga, in which he mentions his own (tactful) refusal of an offer to collaborate on the drug lord’s memoirs. As well as putting him on dubious legal footing, Keefe “worried that the whole scenario felt like Act I of a thriller in which the hapless magazine writer, blinded by his desire for a scoop, does not necessarily survive Act III.”

    In the UK, the Daily Telegraph apparently installed heat and motion sensors to monitor how much time its journalists spend at their desks—but then removed the devices again a few hours later after staff complaints and a report about the incident on Buzzfeed. It’s nice to keep tabs on your employees, perhaps, but less fun once someone else starts keeping tabs on the tabs you’re keeping.

  • January 11, 2016

    Aside from everything else you could say about David Bowie—surely one of the greatest shapeshifting pop stars in history—he also had excellent taste in literature. Via Electric Lit, here’s a list of Bowie’s one hundred favorite books. And from the 2011 volume David Bowie: Any Day Now, The London Years 1947–1974, a few images of the starman from his late 1960s and early ’70s heyday:

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