• July 14, 2015

    Worms turn? This week the Authors Guild, the American Booksellers Association, and a few others have teamed up against the twenty-year-old bullies Amazon, telling on them to the Justice Department.

    Poor Harper Lee continues to be milked for all she’s worth: With spectacular timing, it now transpires that yet another novel may have turned up, perhaps one “bridging” the gap between To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman.

    Charles Dickens

    Charles Dickens

    Less suspect, perhaps, is the discovery by an antiquarian book dealer of Charles Dickens’s annotations on a collection of the periodical he edited, All the Year Round, which reveal that previously anonymous poems, stories and articles can in fact be credited to Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins, and Lewis Carroll.

    There’s now a vast backlog of more than 200,000 unanswered Freedom of Information Act requests: One of them is from Laura Poitras, the Oscar-winning director of the Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour, asking why she was detained and interrogated so many times while traveling between 2006 and 2012 (naturally, she says, she’s not the only one to suffer “years of Kafkaesque harassment at the borders”)—with no answer forthcoming, she’s now decided to sue the US government instead.

    Both in print and on digital platforms, African sci-fi seems to be thriving.

    The author of the classic 1980s comic strip “Bloom County” has started publishing it again, on his Facebook page, apparently because he feels America’s dark days are fading now that Donald Trump is running for president: “Silliness suddenly seems safe now. Trump’s merely a sparkling symptom of a renewed national ridiculousness. We’re back baby.”

  • July 13, 2015

    Harper Lee

    Harper Lee

    An early review (and excerpt) of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, which will be published tomorrow, has shocked Lee’s fans by revealing that the hero of To Kill a Mockingbird, crusading lawyer Atticus Finch, is a racist in the new novel. Go Set a Watchman, which some are calling a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, tells the story of a grown-up Scout Finch (now known as Jean Louise) returning to Alabama to visit Atticus in the 1950s. We learn that Atticus has attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting, and he has some unkind things to say about desegregation, the NAACP, and “negroes” in general. There have long been questions about whether Lee was taken advantage of in order to publish Watchman (she suffered a stroke in 2007 and now lives in an assisted-living facility), and it now seems clear the the book was a kind of trial run for Mockingbird rather than a novel that was meant to be published in its own right (there are still conflicting stories about how it was found). Some critics and scholars are welcoming the new, more-complex version of Atticus, but since he was written before the Mockingbird version, perhaps the flawed Atticus was  simply a rough draft.

    Gawker head Nick Denton provides an exhaustive account of the Hulk Hogan v. Gawker lawsuit so far.

    A new book, A Time for Truth by Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, has been left off the New York Times bestseller list because the paper says it has found evidence of “strategic bulk buying” meant to pump up the stats. As Philip Bump points out in the Washington Post, this is a “win-win” for Cruz, because he can now freely stoke outrage over the “liberal media” (etc.) and get lots of publicity for his book, which, so far, has sold about eleven-thousand copies.

    At Reddit, CEO Ellen Pao has resigned and will be replaced by the site’s original CEO, Steve Huffman. Pao has endured harassment, revolt, and a petition to oust her that garnered more than 200,000 signatures. She wrote of her departure, “In my eight months as reddit’s CEO, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly on reddit. The good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity.”

  • July 10, 2015

    go set a watchmanSince Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman comes out next week (and you can read the first chapter, or indeed have Reese Witherspoon read it to you, here), a reporter for Bloomberg Business headed to Monroeville to try to untangle the whole strange story of its provenance.

    Apparently some people are only just discovering the Awl. At the Verge, there’s an admiring profile of the site, and especially of its redheaded media/tech savants Matt Buchanan and John Herrman (formerly of Gizmodo and then Buzzfeed, they seem to come as a package deal). The Awl is presented as understanding the new realities of the web without needing to pander them—what helps with that, it seems, is to be very small and very wry. They plan one day to be the cockroach after the “content apocalypse.” “I think John tends to be ahead of these things,” Buchanan says, “because he reads them as science fiction of the present.” “That’s a lot of what the Awl does now,” Herrman chimes in. “Our entire economy is just a giant science fiction writing prompt.”

    Vice has started releasing material for its woman-focused channel, Broadly, ahead of an official launch later this summer. Its beat is announced as “sex, politics, culture, witchcraft” (guess that about covers it) and if you’re wondering what happens when Vice meets feminism, its first piece is enticingly headlined “Why Satanists are Fighting America’s Restrictive Abortion Laws.”

    It’s not just Upworthy: An AJ+ staffer (AJ+, for the uninitiated, is a digital news wing of the Al Jazeera network) describes exactly how her team planned to make their post-Charleston video go viral. They chose the topic of Southern racism after ruling out gun control “because we perceived it to be the third ranked among those talking about Charleston (and it had been done countless times before).” The video was indeed “a hit,” partly because “‘It had the N-word in the first seconds,’ one of our audience development experts pointed out.”

    Amazon will stop at nothing to make sure you don’t get to review your friends.

  • July 9, 2015

    Ben Marcus discusses the new anthology of American stories he has edited: “There is an awful set of questions around the short story and its accepted irrelevance (against the novel) and its commercial inferiority. I just fucking hate it all. I hate that it’s even a conversation.”

    At Politico, Dylan Byers has a report on whether, if we all stopped paying attention to Donald Trump, he would go away.

    Under the leadership of their editorial director Amy O’Leary, a recent New York Times escapee, Upworthy has been moving away from clickbait headlines and toward more original stories. That means hiring more writers and fewer “curators,” but it also means getting more manipulative, not less: Going through the “user data,” their staffers try “to understand things such as how emotions impact how users consume stories, what motivates people to take action around content they find meaningful, and what is the best way to structure stories to take advantage of different platforms.” After the fact, they “go through the metrics of every story” to figure out exactly the places where it started losing readers’ attention—the point where someone commits to reading the whole piece, O’Leary says, is “a very interesting narrative moment”; if you went to make a snack halfway through, she wants to know that too. In the future, we’ll no doubt write books this way.

    Meanwhile, a letter from a writer of the old school, Jack Kerouac, is being sold at auction—bids opened today. There’s some discussion of his unfinished novel, Spotlight, and also some useful reminders for authors: Success, Kerouac writes, is “when you cant enjoy your food any more in peace. Ow.”

    After being played by Reese Witherspoon in the film of her memoir Wild, Cheryl Strayed is still diversifying: You can already catch the audio version of her “Dear Sugar” advice column, which has been going for a few months, and as of this fall you can stop tattooing inspirational quotations from her work on yourself and just buy a whole book of them.

    And the novelist Chuck Palahniuk plans to start appearing as a character in the Fight Club 2 comic-book series, followed by his whole writing group: “Literary critics claim that Ken Kesey’s mental hospital in Cuckoo’s Nest and Toni Morrison’s plantation in Beloved represent those authors’ post-graduate writing workshops. To prevent anyone from thinking my own workshop is either a support group for the terminally ill or a bare-knuckle mosh pit, I’ve included it in Fight Club 2.”

  • July 8, 2015

    For authors, few things ever seem to go in this direction. As of next year, the Man Booker International Prize is merging with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize to create one annual award for a translated work of literary fiction. When the Man Booker International was awarded every two years for a whole body of work, you had to be Lydia Davis or László Krasznahorkai to get your hands on the £60,000 (c. $90,000), but now you could get it for a single book—though, of course, you’d have to split it with your translator.

    Donald Trump

    Donald Trump

    Somebody really went deep in fact-checking Donald Trump’s claim to have written the biggest selling business book “of all time.” And at Buzzfeed, they’ve looked up the Nielsen BookScan figures to compare sales in the mini-field of Republican candidate lit—Trump’s not winning there either; Ben Carson comes out ahead by a very long way.

    At Flavorwire, Jonathan Sturgeon briefly considers a new William Gaddis biography, tracing the novelist’s odd legacy along the way, from the 2002 New Yorker essay in which Jonathan Franzen “calls Gaddis ‘Mr. Difficult,’ but he should have just called him ‘Daddy’,” to the post-financial crash phenomenon that was Occupy Gaddis.

    Why do people still start literary magazines? Bookforum contributor Stephen Burt asks on the New Yorker’s website. “You won’t get rich, or even very famous,” he writes. Whether in print or online, where many of the newer “litmags” establish themselves, your journal “will wing its way into a world already full of journals, like a paper airplane into a recycling bin.” And still they come.

    Turns out a lot more people than you might expect want to read 38,000 words about coding.

  • July 7, 2015

    Thomas Piketty

    Thomas Piketty

    If you missed the translation of Die Zeit’s interview with Thomas Piketty, the economist and author of last year’s somewhat unlikely blockbuster Capital in the Twenty-First Century, then it looks as if you really have missed it (for now, it has been taken down from Medium for copyright reasons). Piketty accuses Germany of hypocrisy in its current approach to Greece and its debts.

    Karl Ove Knausgaard gets the Vice treatment, explaining why he considers himself “repressed.” And Vice gets the Columbia Journalism Review treatment: A “multibillion-dollar enterprise that continues to be described as ‘swashbuckling’ and ‘edgy.’ That is the irony, and the tension, of Vice. To sustain its appearance of being the genuine article—among employees, viewers, investors, and the media—it needs to be both rebellious and dependable, to have the credibility of the New York Times with the posture of a drinking buddy.”

    As for the real New York Times, it is now trying out Whatsapp as a platform for news: Some readers have signed up to get mini-reports from the Rome bureau chief during the Pope’s nine-day tour of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay (a less interactive, more pious Gawker Stalker, if you will).

    Ratter is dead, long live Ratter. “We have to basically just build a new Gawker,” says former Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio of the second iteration of his new venture (the first version, intended as a network of local online tabloids, collapsed in May).

    The Millions gets excited about the books still in store for us in 2015.

  • July 6, 2015

    The Hulk Hogan v. Gawker lawsuit that was set to begin today in Florida has been postponed indefinitely because trial scheduling rules were not followed. Hogan is suing Gawker for one hundred millions dollars because the site posted a sex tape of the wrestling star in 2012; Gawker founder Nick Denton has said that his media company doesn’t have that kind of money. Denton thinks he will prevail in the lawsuit, though, and has defended the post as newsworthy: “We wrote a story which did not simply add another rumor to an already large pile of rumors, but actually sorted through those rumors and tried to establish some truth. That is the definition of good journalism, whatever you think about the subject matter.”

    The influential German magazine Der Spiegel has posted an article claiming that the NSA and American spies conducted surveillance against them to identify confidential sources, and that the CIA used the information to retaliate against a German government official, Hans Josef Vorbeck, who was suspected of leaking sensitive material to journalists.

    Reddit is back to business-as-usual after a widespread revolt by site moderators shut down many popular discussion boards late last week. The moderators were protesting the firing of Victoria Taylor, a high-ranking site employee.

    Juan Felipe Herrera

    Juan Felipe Herrera

    At the LA Review of Books, reflections on the naming of Juan Felipe Herrera as poet laureate: “Herrera’s family has gone from migrant worker to poet laureate of the United States in one generation. One generation. I am an adamant objector to the Horatio Alger myth of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, but Herrera’s story is one of epic American proportions,” writes David Tomas Martinez.

  • July 3, 2015

    Harper Lee

    Harper Lee

    As HarperCollins prepare to publish the most pre-ordered book in their history, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, the plot thickens in terms of just when and how the lost-and-found novel came to light—it was apparently several years earlier than Lee’s lawyer, Tonja Carter, had announced to readers, which further complicates the questions already surrounding the circumstances of its publication.

    Following Gawker’s lead, editorial workers at Salon have also decided to unionize.

    Meanwhile Gawker itself won a delay of several months in its trial with Hulk Hogan over his sex tape. As the hefty lawsuit continues to loom over the site, there has been increasing interest in Gawker’s finances, which it seems, according to the financial statements Nick Denton has pre-emptively released, are looking healthy.

    Novelist and Bookforum contributor Porochista Khakpour has a memoir up at the Virginia Quarterly Review about illness and her New Age past: “Then I called a company that got people off Western meds—a front for Scientology, I later discovered—which convinced me during a phone consult that I was a benzodiazepine addict who had ruined my own life but said, ‘Don’t worry we deal with many VIPs like yourself who have taken a bad turn.’”

    Amazon’s plan to pay self-published authors per page read instead of per book downloaded is even stingier than you might have imagined: In an email this week they announced that the amount paid for each page could be a mere $0.006. Writers are likely to see a huge cut in royalties, and you could also say that the new per-page system seems designed most especially to punish concision.

  • July 2, 2015

    Bill O'Reilly

    Bill O’Reilly

    Publishers Weekly gently addresses Bill O’Reilly’s distress over their failure to include his book Killing Reagan in their latest “announcement issue,” which provides librarians and booksellers with a list of the upcoming season’s significant books.

    The political journalist Leslie Gelb has landed in trouble for apparently promising Hillary Clinton friendly coverage in advance—”He said he would give you a veto over content,” a fundraiser wrote to Clinton, “and looked me in the eye and said, ‘she will like it’”—and sending her the text of his 2009 piece to read before it came out. The new owners of the magazine that published it have now added a defensive editor’s note: “While we cannot speak to the policies of prior owners, AMG/Parade does not promise favorable coverage or allow any story subject control of the editorial process.”

    Scribd, the subscription-based reading site that aims to be a Netflix for e-books, is dropping thousands of romance novels from its catalogue. They have to pay the publishers every time someone downloads and gets stuck into one of their titles, and apparently Scribd had hoped, as Laura Hazard Owen writes, that it would be “more like gym memberships” (most people never go)—turns out this business model doesn’t work so well when subscribers actually want to read the books.

    President Obama joined the ranks of those slamming the New York Times for recommending putting peas in guacamole as “one of those radical moves that is also completely obvious after you taste it.”

  • July 1, 2015

    David Foster Wallace and Jason Segel

    David Foster Wallace and Jason Segel

    ‘‘I think let’s start iterating,’’ Arianna Huffington says. ‘‘Let’s not wait for the perfect product.’’ At the New York Times magazine, a look inside how the Huffington Post is run: “It’s as though Huffington is spreading an illness while simultaneously peddling the cure. Call it hypocrisy, but it testifies to her savvy. The business of web media is figuring out what people want — and if what we want is contradictory, why shouldn’t Huffington profit from that contradiction?” A recent Gawker post called the place “essentially Soviet in its functioning. Purges and show trials are common.”

    If you have time in life to read just one more piece on David Foster Wallace (now being played by Jason Segel in a new film), you should probably make it this one.

    As of Monday, the NSA gets to start collecting Americans’ phone records in bulk again, only this time they don’t have to keep it a secret.

    The author of The Car Thief, Theodore Weesner, has died. The New York Times has an obituary that quotes from Weesner’s strongly worded letter to the editors of the NYT Book Review (writers take note) in response to a 1987 piece on one of his less well known novels: “I repeat: Your reviewer did not even understand what he read. And you printed it. You break my heart. You owe me much more than an apology.”

    The Paris Review is putting up some recordings of conversations with writers (“consider them deleted scenes from our Writers at Work interviews, or directors’ cuts”): This week, it’s the poet Czesław Miłosz.

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