• February 5, 2015

    People have been raising questions about the conditions under which Harper Lee agreed to have her second book published. Did she really agree? (She’s historically said she opposed publishing a second book.) Is she being exploited by her lawyer and others who want to profit from what will undoubtedly be the novel’s wildly successful sales figures? Mallory Ortberg thinks this might be the case. At New York, Boris Kachka reviews Lee’s history, particularly her decline in recent years, and quotes a letter that her sister Alice Lee wrote to a biographer about the Lees’ lawyer, Tonja: “I learned that without my knowledge she had typed out the statement, carried it to [Nelle’s apartment], and had Nelle Harper sign it . . . Poor Nelle Harper can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence. Now she has no memory of the incident . . . I am humiliated, embarrassed, and upset about the suggestion of lack of integrity at my office.”

    At Medium, a profile of a Wikipedia editor on a mission to eradicate all instances of incorrect usage of “comprised of.” He made his first “comprised of” edit in 2006. Since 2007, he’s made 42,000 edits.

    Tim Parks sets out to answer how to define authenticity in literature: “However many ways the author reworks his material,” he concludes, “it is recognizably his. We might say he or she is obedient to a need, or an inspiration, even when setting out to work in a different genre.”

    Recently, numerous newspapers have been doing away with the comment function for their stories. The Guardian’s executive editor for digital says this is a mistake. Also: “We need to understand a whole lot more about how Buzzfeed does what it does.”

    Speaking of Buzzfeed, Kat Stoeffel is moving there to be their deputy ideas editor.  Stoeffel has done a lot of great work at New York’s The Cut.

    Andrew Sullivan, who recently announced that he’s leaving his influential blog, The Dish, explains why it won’t be continuing without him, as readers have requested it do: “All three co-owners of the site, me, Patrick Appel and Chris Bodenner, have come to the conclusion that the practical, financial and editorial challenges of continuing on are simply too great for us to bear as we are, let alone without me.”

  • February 4, 2015

    Harper Lee, circa 1962

    Harper Lee, circa 1962

    A novel Harper Lee wrote in the mid-1950s, before To Kill a Mockingbird, is going to be published this summer in a run of no fewer than two million copies. Go Set a Watchman, as the book is called, follows Mockingbird’s Scout as an adult. It was out of flashback scenes to Scout’s childhood that Mockingbird was born, on the advice of Lee’s editor.

    The Financial Times will soon begin paying interns minimum wage for the first time in its history, the result of a deal brokered with Britain’s National Union of Journalists. The union promises that they will take on other employers over the issue as well: “It is vital that a modern, democratic nation has a media that reflects all its citizens and is not a redoubt of the privileged classes. The management of the mainstream media is also the loser if it is not prepared to look for talent beyond a cohort of people who looks like it.”

    In the 1870s, cats were written about mainly as pests; by the 1970s, people were concerned with how they were being treated. A survey of the New York Times’ cat coverage found nearly seven hundred articles since the late nineteenth century, among them “cats versus birds, cats and women, cats as urban symbols . . . cats getting stuck and then usually extracted from almost every conceivable place—including trees, ledges, chimneys, piers, sewers, packing crates and airplane cargo holds.”

    The New Left Review has an interview with Evgeny Morozov, who’s written for Bookforum in the past (on Astra Taylor). Morozov describes the evolution of his politics over the course of the years that he’s been studying the Internet. Originally, he says, he regarded himself as a social democrat, at the “pragmatic centre” of the spectrum, “content to search for better, more effective ways to regulate the likes of Google and Facebook.” But now:  “I am questioning who should run and own both the infrastructure and the data running through it, since I no longer believe that we can accept that all these services ought to be delivered by the market and regulated only after the fact.”

    The next issue of Charlie Hebdo will be released February 25.

    At Bookends, Anna Holmes and James Parker consider whether book reviewing should be considered a public service or an art. Both come down in favor of public service. We vehemently disagree.

  • February 3, 2015

    The Huffington Post aims to take better advantage of Facebook by increasing the quantity of “feel-good” stories it publishes. In a recent memo to the staff, Arianna Huffington describes “What’s Working,” a new editorial initiative that, in her words,  will “double down” on “positive stories and solutions to major challenges the media too often overlook.” HuffPo will still cover the bad stuff, but—as she also announced “last week in Davos”—it wants to start a “positive contagion by relentlessly telling the stories of people and communities doing amazing things, overcoming great odds, and facing real challenges with perseverance, creativity, and grace.”

    The New York Times has a feature on the New Republic, which lately has been trying to dispel suspicions that its recent cover article—in the first issue after December’s staff exodus—was a cynical P.R. move. The article itself, a fairly anodyne assessment of the magazine’s racial history, doesn’t do a lot to contradict the idea. At Capital New York, TNR staff writer Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig is optimistic about where things at the publication are headed.

    Nathaniel Mackey

    Nathaniel Mackey

    Nathaniel Mackey has won Yale’s Bollingen Prize for poetry. You can read a few of Mackey’s poems at the National Poetry Foundation—including “Eye on the Scarecrow,” which starts like this: “The way we lay / we mimed a body / of water. It was / this or that way / with / the dead and we / were them. No / one / worried which…”

    Ta-nehisi Coates appreciates Andrew Sullivan in the wake of Sullivan’s recent retirement from blogging: “Andrew has never been a prophet, so much as a joyous heretic. Andrew taught me that you do not have to pretend to be smarter than you are. And when you have made the error of pretending to be smarter, or when you simply have been wrong, you can say so and you can say it straight—without self-apology, without self-justifying garnish, without ‘if I have offended.’”

    At Matter—which is the normal-magazine part of Medium, a publishing platform that anyone can use (in case you’re as confused by the site as we are)—Emily Witt describes Chaturbate, a live-cam sex website, investigating the category (or is it orientation?) of “internet sexual.”

     

  • February 2, 2015

    Mohamedou Ould Slahi

    Mohamedou Ould Slahi

    Christian Lorentzen reviews Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantanamo Diary, “a relentless catalogue of grotesque abuses.” Mark Danner covers the heavily redacted book for the New York Times. The Intercept provides some information about how the book got published.

    Frances McDormand, who recently starred in the adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, has joined the cast of the adaptation of Meg Wolitzer’s novel The Wife.

    The Los Angeles Review of Books has inaugurated a new series titled No Crisis, “a look at the state of critical thinking and writing—literary interpretation, art history, and cultural studies—in the 21st century.”

    A tech writer at Business Insider urges Michael Bloomberg to buy the New York Times. “How could Bloomberg buy the New York Times if it isn’t for sale? By taking a page out of Rupert Murdoch’s book.”

  • January 30, 2015

    John Leggett, who directed the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for sixteen years (1971 to 1987), has died at the age of ninety-seven. Among the students he admitted during his long tenure at the program were T. C. Boyle, Michael Cunningham, Denis Johnson, and Jane Smiley.

    The director of news at Al Jazeera English, Salah Negm, says he welcomes the recent leaks about the organization’s coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attack. “I would like to state that our style guide and our editorial discussion is no secret,” he wrote in an email to the staff. “These so called ‘leaks’ don’t in my opinion prove anything sinister within the newsrooms of Al Jazeera Media Network.”

    The cover story of the New Republic’s first issue post-staff-exodus is about the magazine’s history in terms of race. “How can this magazine,” Jeet Heer asks, “come to terms with a blighted legacy on race and transcend it?” He answers with a survey of the magazine’s achievements and missteps, explaining that “any reformation program should start by honestly acknowledging the past.” The overview, predictably, is heavily apologetic about the magazine’s distant wrongs and rather less self-critical about its more recent doings.

    We noted a while back that plans were in the work for the Associated Press to begin publishing articles written by robots. That dystopic eventuality has arrived. In place of a byline, a line at the bottom of the articles reads “This story was generated by Automated Insights.” The AP assures everyone that the system is logging fewer errors than the humans who used to do the job, and says that no one has been fired to make place for a robot. Instead, writers will be more free to do the interesting rather than the tedious stuff: “That’s the goal,” says the assistant business editor who was in charge of putting the system in place, “to write smarter pieces.”

    Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh is soon the cometh to BAM.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Nathan gives “a performance that will stay with you for as long as you live.” Read: The play is almost five hours long. In the LRB, read John Lahr on the “melancholy core” in O’Neill’s work.

    Anne Enright is Ireland’s first fiction laureate, a position that comes with a €150,000 award. Colm Tóibín, due to his previous involvement with the Art Council of Ireland, chose to withdraw himself from the running.

  • January 29, 2015

    Stieg Larsson is dead, but his character Lisbeth Salander is not. Larsson’s family negotiated with the publisher to choose someone to carry on the book franchise, and together they chose David Lagercrantz, who’s previously co-written a memoir by a soccer star. The new novel will “obviously build on the previous book,” the publisher has said, but it isn’t connected to the unfinished manuscript that Larsson left when he died. That Which Does Not Kill will be out in August in thirty-five countries.

    The new Chipotle cups will feature the work of Aziz Ansari, Julia Alvarez, Walter Isaacson, Barbara Kingsolver, Paul Coelho, and Augusten Burroughs, a lineup that could only have been assembled by the generous mastermind who originally conceived of this service to humanity: Jonathan Safran Foer. If you just can’t wait till you get to Chipotle to read your next Chipotle-cup story, Vanity Fair has kindly published them in their entirety.

    After fifteen years of blogging, Andrew Sullivan is giving it up. He’s been doing it long enough, he says—“There comes a time when you have to move on to new things, shake your world up, or recognize before you crash that burn-out does happen”—and he wants to do some other things instead:  “I’m a human being before I am a writer; and a writer before I am a blogger, and although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have helped pioneer a genuinely new form of writing, I yearn for other, older forms.”

    Jonathan Chait

    Jonathan Chait

    The Internet is aflame after Jonathan Chait’s recent New York magazine piece on political correctness. At Vox, Amanda Taub says  that political correctness “doesn’t exist,” at least not as any sort of creed: It’s a “catch-all term we apply to people who ask for more sensitivity to a particular cause than we’re willing to give — a way to dismiss issues as frivolous in order to justify ignoring them.” The Atlantic’s Megan Garber says that what Chait calls “p.c. culture” should be thought of as “empathy culture,” and “doesn’t impede progress.” At Gawker, Alex Pareene argues that Chait “is used to writing off left-wing critics and reserving his real writerly firepower for (frequently deserving) right-wingers. That was, for years, how things worked at the center-left opinion journalism shops.” Now, however, “the destruction of the magazine industry and the growth of the open-forum internet have amplified formerly marginal voices. . . . writers of color can be just as condescending and dismissive of Chait as he always was toward the left. And he hates it.” At In These Times, David Sessions says that the problem with Chait’s article isn’t that he’s wrong about how social media works on the left—Sessions thinks he’s right—“the problem is that he has turned that critique into a sweeping, self-righteous parable about the philosophical superiority of his own brand of liberalism.” The comedian John Hodgman responded to Chait in a series of tweets. In a live interview with the Huffington Post, Chait says he isn’t too disturbed by everyone’s reaction; after all, he’s a “chill guy.”

    n+1 has a series of articles about labor and publishing written by the current or former employees of a handful of magazines: Maxine Phillips on Dissent, Daniel Menaker on the New Yorker, Keith Gessen on n+1; and Gemma Sieff on Harper’s, where, as Sieff recounts, the editors tried unsuccessfully to unionize: “The staff was united behind literature, not the most concrete of common causes.”

  • January 28, 2015

    In this week’s New York magazine, Jonathan Chait sounds the old alarm of “political correctness.” For Chait, trigger warnings and the idea of “mansplaining,” among other Internet-centric phenomena,  amount to a grave hazard to free-speech and liberalism. The Internet, in other words, has given the p.c. cops more reach. “Political correctness is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression,” he argues. “Not only is it not a form of liberalism; it is antithetical to liberalism. Indeed, its most frequent victims turn out to be liberals themselves.” At Jezebel, Jia Tolentino responds, pointing out that “what this whole article is railing against as the American Tone Gestapo Prepared to Destroy the Free Market of Ideas may in actuality just be the new, social-media-enlarged voices of minorities, women, and the people who value them finally daring to disagree.”

    On This American Life, Jezebel writer Lindy West tells the story of an Internet troll who came clean and apologized for tormenting her online.

    Conde Nast is launching “23 Stories by Conde Nast,” a branded-content division that will grant advertisers access to editors, who will help craft marketing campaigns.

    Cate Blanchett in "Carol," an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel

    Cate Blanchett in the movie “Carol,” a forthcoming adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel

    Jack Shafer’s advice to the New Republic editor, Gabriel Snyder: “Kill the institution so a genuinely new institution can be built. No more anniversary issues. No more ‘20 years ago in the New Republic’ featurettes. Unless Snyder indulges his inner destroyer, his magazine will only invite comparison to the old magazine that so few people read anyway!”

    Among the many books that will be turned into movies in 2015—since moviemakers seem to have run out of their own ideas—are Fifty Shades of Gray; Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt (the movie version will be called Carol); Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places; Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation; and, of course, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2.

  • January 27, 2015

    Dean Baquet. Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times.

    Dean Baquet. Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times.

    At Spiegel, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet says the paper largely “failed” readers in the post-9/11 years, explains why the paper declined to run cartoons of Muhammad during the Charlie Hebdo story, and argues that the next Edward Snowden should bring his story to the Times, since the paper has the “guts” to publish it.

    In the LARB, Roy Scranton writes about the “trauma hero myth” in war literature and in movies like American Sniper, which foreground the suffering of individual soldiers at the expense of the big picture: “We allow the psychological suffering endured by those we sent to kill for us displace and erase the innocents killed in our name.”

    The Times Literary Supplement chastises Salman Rushdie over the word medieval, setting up the novelist to perfectly deploy a Pulp Fiction quote.

    New York Times op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow writes about a phone call he received from his son, a student at Yale, whom campus police had stopped at gunpoint while he was leaving the library. “I had always dreaded the moment that we would share stories about encounters with the police in which our lives hung in the balance, intergenerational stories of joining the inglorious ‘club.’”

    Adam Thirlwell considers whether art can still shock, and presents a gallery of scandales, including Manet’s Olympia, Pussy Riot, and Michel Houellebecq. “Shock, it has to be admitted, is not chic,” Thirlwell writes. “It is so often seen as juvenile, meretricious, boring. Even in 1865, shock was passé.”

  • January 26, 2015

    The diary of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Guantanamo Bay prisoner charged with being a top level Al Qaeda recruiter, was just published (in heavily redacted form) after a seven-year legal fight. The Times recounts that one of the redacted passages is Slahi writing “I couldn’t help breaking in [redacted].” As the book’s editor explains, “It seems possible, if incredible, that the U.S. government may have here redacted the word ‘tears.’ ”

     Alice K. Turner, Playboy’s fiction editor for two decades, died on January 17 at the age of 75. Over the years, Turner published Ursula K. Le Guin, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, and David Foster Wallace, among others. She characterized working as an editor as like being in the middle of a web, “with lines of interest and appreciation and often real affection reaching out all over the country, often to writers you’ve never published, and possibly never will.”

     On The Believer website, writers discuss the writers of this generation that have been most influential to them. The list began at A and is now at E, which means you’ll find discussions of Jennifer Egan, Deborah Eisenberg, Louise Erdrich, and Percival Everett, as well as Dave Eggers and Jeffrey Eugenides.

    Vivian Gornick

    Vivian Gornick

    At the Paris Review, read an excerpt of Elaine Blair’s interview with Vivian Gornick, whose new memoir, The Old Woman and the City, is expected in May. Gornick’s independence and severity are in full display in the conversation. “My editor and my agent kept urging me to write more about myself and love,” she says. “But I’ve always known that, for me, love is not really to the point. I’ve never seen how love made people better, stronger, more real to themselves. On the other hand, if I had to live without work, life would be intolerable.”
    Theodore Ross, who work at Harper’s for seven years, is joining the New Republic as features editor.

  • January 23, 2015

    The Economist has hired Zanny Minton Beddoes as editor. Formerly the business affairs editor, she’s the first woman to be in charge at the magazine.

    The New Yorker rounds up its coverage of authors named as 2014 NBCC award finalists (announced Monday), including work by Blake Bailey, Roz Chast, and Elizabeth Kolbert; reviews of Claudia Rankine, Marilynne Robinson, and John Lahr; and criticism by Alexandra Schwartz.

    The NYPD is more closely monitoring the city’s media outlets in the wake of recent attacks in Paris.

    At Artforum, John Ashbery remembers the painter Jane Freilicher, who died last month at the age of 90. Jane was the first person Ashbery met in New York. “Her pictures seem to have come into being all by themselves—almost. The painter sort of showed them how to do it and then returned to her other work—fixing lunch, maybe, opening the mail, and coming back to check on the picture and make sure it hasn’t gone off the rails. The resulting creations look unfinished and incredibly strong.”

    Barrett Brown

    Barrett Brown

    ISIS is supposedly working on a TV channel, to broadcast news 24/7. An Arabic-language teaser appeared last week advertising a channel called the Islamic Caliphate Broadcast. It has since disappeared.

    The journalist Barrett Brown has been sentenced to sixty-three months in prison, after pleading guilty to a variety of charges related to his involvement with the hacking group Anonymous. In a statement to the court, Brown said he regretted having hidden computers from FBI agents and having made videos that threatened an agent who was investigating him. He said he had compromised his role as a journalist when he got in touch with a security firm with an offer to redact material from a 2011 hack, in order to distract the focus from the hacker Jeremy Hammond. But Brown’s expressions of regret, The Intercept reports, came alongside “sharp rebukes of the federal government and the private security firms targeted by the hacks.”

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