• January 5, 2015

    Mark Zuckerberberg is starting what could become the biggest book club in history. The Facebook founder has written that his “challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week—with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.” This will not be a solitary endeavor: Zuckerberg has created a Facebook page called A Year of Books, where he will name the books he’s reading, and invite others to discuss the titles. There are some basic rules for those who join the club: “We ask that everyone who participates read the books and we will moderate the discussions and group membership to keep us on topic.” The first book to be discussed will be Moises Naim’s The End of Power.

    Michel Houellebecq defends his controversial new novel, Submission. In the book, set in France in 2022, a member of a Muslim political party wins the presidency.

    In 2014, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos lost $7.4 billion due to his company’s poorly performing stock. It was the online superstore’s worst year since 2008. But Bezos remains one of the wealthiest Americans. As the WSJ points out, “Bezos’ 84 million shares, equal to 18.3% of the company, will ring in the New Year with a value of roughly $26.1 billion.”

    Ben Lerner

    Ben Lerner

    “I think a lot of the time the book is talked about, like, ‘Oh here’s another Brooklyn novel by a guy with glasses.’” Ben Lerner talks with Emily Witt about octopi, friendships between men and women, political engagement in a consumerist culture, and his recent novel 10:04.

    Flavorwire has posted a roundup of the best literary criticism of 2014, which includes a shoutout to LRB editor and regular Bookforum contributor Christian Lorentzen.

  • January 2, 2015

    Since this past summer, the London Review of Books has been serially publishing Jenny Diski’s memoirs. In this installment, Diski describes listening, as a teenager, to Doris Lessing (Diski’s guardian) and her friends: “To start with, I couldn’t understand how it was so easy for them to have a point of view, to know how and why things ‘worked’. ‘Working’, the pivotal valuation, was never defined. There seemed to be too much to learn. I picked up quickly that having opinions wasn’t enough and that it was necessary to have a basis – from reading, from study, from hard conscious thought – from which the opinions were formed. But more important than all the theory, behind and beyond it, there was some ineffable taste or intuitive understanding implicitly agreed on by these talking, always talking, people. I couldn’t imagine ever acquiring the all-important taste. Did you have it or not, from birth? Could you acquire it with diligent study? Many people were dismissed as stupid, especially academics, who apparently lacked good judgment, yet who seemed at least as learned as Doris and her friends. How could they be stupid?”

    Patton Oswalt

    Patton Oswalt

    Patton Oswalt wants to invite Heather Havrilesky, Neal Gaiman, and Cintra Wilson to dinner.

    Twitter is putting ads into the lists of who we follow, making it look like you’re following Mastercard when you’re not. The ads are marked as promoted, but their location is exceedingly misleading. Blocking the account will prevent the ad from showing up, but another brand inevitably shows up to take its place.

    The science-fiction writer Michael Moorcock, whose seventieth novel will be released in January, celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday this month. Moorcock “shook the fantasy and science-fiction establishment and made it possible for writers to step outside the long shadow of Tolkien and other fantasy devices,” says the New Yorker.

    Most people who work in bookbinding are fifty-five or older.

    Over the years, countless fans have rewritten the end of “Brokeback Mountain” to do away with the tragedy. “The implication is that because they’re men they understand much better than I how these people would have behaved,” Annie Proulx says.  “And maybe they do. But that’s not the story I wrote. Those are not their characters. The characters belong to me by law.”  Proulx finds it so maddening, she says, that she wishes she’d never written the story.

  • December 31, 2014

    At the Intercept, Natasha Vargas-Cooper has a multipart interview with Jay Wilds, who figures prominently in Sarah Koenig’s twelve-episode documentary podcast, Serial, and who was a key witness in the case against Adnan Syed. (Syed was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend in 1999, but has maintained his innocence; Serial suggests he may be telling the truth and casts doubt on Wilds.) The Observer talks to Vargas-Cooper about her decision to do the interview.“I think [Wilds is] a really complicated guy and I think I’m dealing with somebody who has like been really traumatized. [This interview] has intensified and further armed the pro-Adnan people, which I feel like at this point anything would. But I think for people who are not as partisan it created a more fleshed out human being.”

    Melville House has already ordered a reprint of its edition of The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, which officially went on sale yesterday. The publisher has sold out of all 50,000 copies of its initial run of 50,000.

    Gawker IDs Lena Dunham’s alleged rapist, in response to accusations that she fabricated the rape and the character who raped her.

    Pankaj Mishra and Benjamin Moser wonder whether writers can still “make it new,” as Ezra Pound famously suggested we must. “Literary modernism has culminated in a canon of a few great but inimitable texts,” Mishra reflects. “Avant-garde painting, originally a mode of rebellion, now moves tamely in industrial capitalism’s circuits of production and consumption. The once potent notions of revolution, progress and future that inspired much artistic innovation have lost their imaginative appeal.”

    Four more staffers have left the depleted New Republic, including managing editor Linda Kinstler, deputy editor Amanda Silverman, assistant literary editor Becca Rothfeld, and reporter Yishai Schwartz.

  • December 30, 2014

    Forward names 2014 the year of Soviet-born writers, with books by Lev Golinkin (A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka), Yelena Akhtiorskaya (Panic in a Suitcase), Anya Ulinich (Lena Finkel’s Magic Barrel), David Bezmozgis (The Betrayers), Gary Shteyngart (Little Failure), Lara Vapnyar (The Scent of Pine), and Ellen Litman (Mannequin Girl). Bookforum interviewed Akhtiorskaya over the summer and reviewed her novel as well.

    The Guardian previews fiction and nonfiction to be published in the coming year, including Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, and Anne Enright’s The Green Road. The newspaper is also eager for a book already seen on this side of the Atlantic, Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04.

    At the Times, David Carr says that “certain new realities” in media “are beyond argument.” In a nutshell, “clutter is up—more ads, more channels, more content—advertising rates continue to drop, and audiences are programming their own universe in text, video and audio.” Carr identifies a  handful of media companies and executives that he thinks face especially difficult jobs in 2015, among them the president of MSNBC; the CEO of Viacom; the CEO of the New York Times company; and  “anyone running a movie studio.”

    Bob Mankoff

    Bob Mankoff

    NPR interviews the New Yorker’s cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff, the person behind one of the magazine’s more famous cartoons, which shows a guy pointing at a desk calendar while talking on the phone: “No, Thursday’s out. How about never—is never good for you?”

    The Washington Post plans to support itself in part by selling its content-management system to smaller newspapers. The software is already in use by a handful of student papers at Columbia, Yale, and the University of Maryland.

    Mainland China has Gmail again after an unexplained four-day outage. Google has no explanation for what happened: “We’ve checked and everything is working on our end.” China’s “Great Firewall” blocks access to Twitter and Facebook.

  • December 29, 2014

    Bill de Blasio has blamed the media for “dividing” people. Not a very original move, but the mayor’s irritation in this case is somewhat understandable. He was asked in a press briefing whether he’d let his children recite some of the chants that have been sung at protests in recent weeks, specifically those that compare the NYPD to the KKK. De Blasio pointed out that most protesters had not repeated this chant: “What you manage to do is pull up the few who do not represent the majority, who are saying unacceptable things.” He’s unhappy because some of the blame for last week’s shooting of two police officers has been directed at him, for not responding differently to protests that a few people say have encouraged to “anti-police” sentiment.

    Tomaz Salamun

    Tomaz Salamun

    Tomaz Salamun, a prominent Slovenian poet and a significant influence on a number of avant-garde writers throughout the world, died on Saturday.

    In a new essay about climate change, Rebecca Solnit writes: “As it happens, the planet’s changing climate now demands that we summon up the energy to leave behind the Age of Fossil Fuel (and maybe with it some portion of the Age of Capitalism as well).”

    Salon has asked a number of authors to name their favorite books of 2014. The most comical blurb comes at the end, when Nell Zink recommends her own novel, The Wallcreeper.

    Yet another group of writers is angry with Amazon: self-published authors, some of whose profits diminished significantly when Amazon introduced its Kindle Unlimited program, which allows subscribers unlimited access to around 700,000 titles for $9.99 a month.

  • December 23, 2014

    New York Magazine has a timeline describing Rolling Stone’s handling of the University of Virginia rape story. Most recently, Rolling Stone has asked the Columbia University journalism school to independently review the editorial process behind the article. The magazine will publish the report once it’s concluded.

    The Columbia Journalism Review looks back at the past year’s worst mistakes in journalism. The UVA rape story tops the list, especially for the way Rolling Stone tried blame the report’s inaccuracies on the subject of the story rather than on its own staff. CJR also includes Time for wanting to ban the word feminist, New York Magazine for a fabricated account of a seventeen-year-old millionaire investor, and Grantland for a January story’s gratuitous outing of its subject as transgender.

    Responding to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent criticism of the New Republic’s treatment of race over the years, Andrew Sullivan gets defensive:  “You’d think he were writing about a magazine filled with bigoted white Southerners, as opposed to an overwhelmingly Jewish set of writers and editors engaged in a long and internecine debate about what it means to be liberal.” Meanwhile, Gabriel Snyder, the magazine’s new editor in chief (installed during an exodus earlier this month in which most of the staff left), has said, in an editor’s letter describing his vision for the new New Republic, that the magazine will be more inclusive in the future: “We will reach out to talented journalists who might have previously felt unwelcome. . . . If this publication is to be influential, and not merely survive, it can no longer afford to represent the views of one privileged class, nor appeal solely to a small demographic of political elites.” In a tweet, he lists upcoming contributors: Batya Ungar-Sargon, Ann Friedman, Cathy Park Hong, Inga Saffron, Jazmine Hughes, Jeet Heer, Jeff Ball, Jen Doll, Thomas Rogers, and William Giraldi. Sounds nice, but it’s hard not to read the statement, and the list, somewhat cynically. Is this a bid to curry favor or a sincere effort? How long will it last?

    In a note about its end-of-year coverage, The Awl dismally assesses the future: “Nothing ever gets better, especially, but not exclusively, on the Internet.”

    The deputy managing editor at Politico, Laura McGann, will be joining Vox to lead its politics coverage. McGann is the third editor to leave Politico recently—Dan Berman went to National Journal and Gregg Birnbaum left for the New York Daily News.

    The Internet in North Korea isn’t really working. Did we do it?

  • December 22, 2014

    The Tribeca Film Festival has announced that it is creating a new annual award, the Nora Ephron Prize. The prize will be given to “a woman writer or director with a distinctive voice who embodies the spirit and vision of the legendary filmmaker and writer.” Ephron, who wrote the screenplay and directed Sleepless in Seattle, among other films, as well as many books, died in June.

    At Slate, David Auerbach explains why the Sony hacks are “a wake-up call.” The attack might not have been as sophisticated as StuxNet, the virus that infiltrated and sabotaged Iran’s nuclear facilities, but it was disastrous. According to Auerbach, “There has never before been a cyberattack of this scale…. Sony Pictures’ systems were not just compromised but obliterated, with the company now sent back to what’s comparably the technological Stone Age.” The sabotage of Sony lent additional relevance to Kim Zetter’s new book about the burgeoning threat of cyberterrorism, Countdown to Zero Day, which Clive Thompson reviews in the current issue of Bookforum.

    Brooklyn Magazine has posted a list of ten great sentences published this year.

    A group of writers respond to the n+1 article “The Free and the Anti-Free,” which charts the ways in which magazine journalism has come to rely on cheap and free labor. Susie Cagle and Manjula Marti take issue with n+1’s argument “against ‘shaming’ small magazines like their own for paying writers poorly (or not paying them at all).” Cagle and Mari—who keep tabs on how much magazines pay—state: “If n+1 editors feel shamed by sites like Who Pays Writers, perhaps they should ask themselves why.”

    Steven W. Thrasher

    Steven W. Thrasher

    Last week, Steven W. Thrasher was among the journalists who reported on protests against the recent grand jury decisions to acquit the police officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island. On Saturday, Thrasher filed a first-hand account of another recent protest—a pro-police rally outside New York’s City Hall, where a small group of ex-cops and NYPD supporters wore T-shirts reading “I Can Breathe.” Thrasher, who is black, writes: “Sometimes my fear gets the better of me. Sometimes, I worry about walking the line between trying to give visual cues that I am hearing someone (no matter how offensive) and not being willing to give them any indication that I agree with anything they say.”

    Metro New York has a story about “Ali Julia,” the mysterious woman who is currently Amazon’s top-ranked reviewer. She has written more than 2,800 product, but just “how one earns the ‘#1 Reviewer’ badge next to their name is a mystery, even to those who have held the title.”

  • December 19, 2014

    The last episode of the popular podcast Serial has been released. The final show does not, as most listeners hoped, provide any firm answers about the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999. Dwight Garner calls it  a “tangled and heartfelt yet frustrating hour of radio.” A public defender, writing in the Washington Post, says that the show missed an opportunity to show something important about the criminal justice system. “I don’t know whether Syed is innocent,” Sarah Lustbader says, “but he was clearly convicted despite many reasonable doubts.”

    Gawker got its hands on a document from Vice Media that lists employee salaries. The document was submitted earlier this year in order to qualify for Empire State tax incentives. If the media company weren’t allowed to relocate to Williamsburg, it threatened, it would move to LA. As Hamilton Nolan points out, the numbers are based on 2013 salaries, and it’s impossible to know how accurate they are. But the gap between writers and everyone else is blazingly visible: Average pay for editorial staff is listed at $45,000; average pay for business and sales staff is very nearly twice that.

    MacMillan has struck a deal with Amazon that lets it set the pricing on e-books. The retailer will take a cut of the sales.

    Secret Behavior

    Secret Behavior

    Secret Behavior is a year-old art and sex magazine that’s more about intimacy than sex. Its mission, says founder James Gallagher, is “embrace the human experience completely.”

    Janet Maslin, Michiko Kakutani, and Dwight Garner name their ten favorite books of 2014. Our favorite list is Garner’s, which includes Ben Lerner, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Marilynne Robinson, Leslie Jamison, Hermione Lee, Atticus Lish, and Caitlin Moran.

    Poynter has collected some of the best—i.e. most ridiculous—corrections of the year. A mistake by the Washington Post that must have been among those that caused the most personal trouble for its subjects: “An earlier version of this story erroneously said that Joaquín Guzmán was found in bed with his secretary. He was found with his wife. This version has been corrected.

  • December 18, 2014

    In honor of the end of the Colbert Report, the New Republic collects clips of some of Stephen Colbert’s best author interviews—with Toni Morrison, George Saunders, and Richard Ford, among others.

    On the New York Review of Books blog, Michael Greenberg reflects on the protests in the wake of the grand-jury decision over the Eric Garner case: “Nationally, a shift of consciousness seems to have taken place, a budging of fixed ideas about African-Americans and law enforcement. Policing has become a civil rights issue.”

    And, on the Harper’s blog, Sam Frank reports on Manhattan’s three-day TechCrunch Disrupt conference: “Everyone at TechCrunch Disrupt appreciated disruption immensely. What’s not to love? Select startup founders get rich, customer-citizens get more for less, and the only losers are old-guard industries (never mind those they employ).”

    Marlon James

    Marlon James

    In a recent interview with Gawker, Marlon James talked about his much praised book, A Brief History of Seven Killings, and his writing process: “With Seven Killings I was risking everything. I was risking explicitness. . . . Risking messing with genre just because I felt like it. Writing something because I felt like it as opposed to having this idea of what is good literature or even an idea of what’s a good paragraph.”

    Taylor Swift, Scarlett Johansson, Oprah, and George R.R. Martin feature on Barbara Walters’s 2014 “10 Most Fascinating People” list.

    Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo will co-star in a film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah.

  • December 17, 2014

    At n+1, Nicholas Dames writes about a handful of books based in the 1970s, among them Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, Norman Rush’s Subtle Bodies, and Darcey Steinke’s Sister Golden Hair. “Here is the territory the novels evoke: a mythic late summer, spacious, unsupervised, a little druggy, a little restless, hedged only by the feeling that everything is about to end,” Dames explains. The nostalgia is intense. But “what if one could imagine a nostalgia that didn’t idealize, that in fact celebrated a past moment’s stubborn resistance to idealization, that coexisted with anhedonia? The twist of these novels . . . is that they aren’t yearning for any belle epoque — but they yearn nonetheless.”

    Kathryn Schulz

    Kathryn Schulz

    Nieman Journalism Labs pokes fun at Buzzfeed by suggesting that they’ll hire a public editor—like the New York Times‘ Margaret Sullivan—in 2015.

    Layoffs at the New York Times that were planned in October will begin being announced to staffers today. Most people let go will receive two weeks of pay, but a few who began working before 1994 will receive a salary for fifteen weeks.

    Newsweek, on the other hand, is hiring—the magazine just brought on seven people to the editorial staff.

    And the New Yorker has hired Kathryn Schulz, who’s been New York Magazine’s book critic since 2012. She’ll write book reviews for the magazine and occasional web pieces.

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