• May 7, 2015

    Al Jazeera America seems trapped in some kind of journalism anxiety dream; amid demotions, allegations and resignations, it has become the story.

    James Franco

    James Franco

    James Franco’s writing career takes an odd turn with this impassioned defense of McDonald’s at the Washington Post. Are we seeing the future of the hot take?

    And elsewhere in standing up for your beliefs, Chris Evans, editorial chief of the UK Telegraph, sent out a mass email telling everyone in the paper’s database to vote for the Conservatives in today’s election. Glenn Greenwald was impressed, and he can’t be the only one.

    It’s been implied that poets must be purer of heart than novelists, since the hope of raking in the cash with a big hit isn’t there (some apparently feared that Ben Lerner was selling out by writing a second novel: “Poets,” he said in an interview, “really haven’t gotten the news that the novel is also dead”). Turns out at least one distinguished poet won’t have to worry about any of this: Alice Notley has won the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

  • May 6, 2015

    Layout 1The New York Times is restructuring its daily meetings to prioritize digital content ahead of the print paper. Executive editor Dean Baquet told the staff that print is still pretty important, though:  “Page One, and the print newspaper, remain a crucial part of what we do. . . . Our increased emphasis on digital publishing does not in any way detract from our commitment to giving our print subscribers the richest, most inviting experience every day.”

    Keith Gessen has written a piece for n+1 explaining why he signed a protest letter to PEN over the awarding of this year’s freedom of expression prize to Charlie Hebdo. At Genius, former n+1 editor Christopher Glazek annotates Gessen’s letter. And the debate rages on: Vladislav Davidzon writes that the PEN boycott makes Americans look like “crude provincials;” Alison Bechdel says that while she thinks the Hebdo cartoons are crude, she still supports the right for them to be made; and Art Spiegelman says that through the controversy, he’s “found that some of my cohorts and brethren in PEN are really good misreaders.”

    The shortlist for this year’s Best Translated Book Award is out (winners to be announced at BEA on May 27). Fiction finalists include works by the late Bohumil Hrabal, Tove Jansson, and Sergei Dovlatov, as well as by Elena Ferrante, Can Xue, and Valeria Luiselli—and, delightfully, Julio Cortázar’s comic-book novella from 1975, Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires (in which Susan Sontag, among others, makes an appearance).

    Archivist Richard Kreitner has an essay on Walt Whitman’s recently republished “Drum-Taps”, and on Whitman’s still “constantly contested” legacy.

    And, from Gawker, a survivor’s account of NYC literary readings: “Don’t you see me? I want to yell. Don’t you know a woman my age would never ask a question without having read the fucking book? But no, the moderator doesn’t seem to know!”

  • May 5, 2015

    Chipotle cup illustrated by Julian Callos

    Cup illustrated by Julian Callos

    Money, money, money. Yet another rumor emerges that Michael Bloomberg is keen to buy the New York Times, this time for a smooth $5 billion, McSweeney’s asks its fans for $150,000 on Kickstarter, and Vice Media looks set to pull in $1 billion in revenue this year.

    Meanwhile, the venerable Onion has its own grand designs. Quoting Farhad Manjoo’s observation a couple of years ago that “now, more than ever, the Onion is in the same boat with the rest of the media” in terms of online pressures, the Atlantic notes that while that’s still true, they’re also “several steps closer to buying a yacht.”

    At The Intercept, a new investigation by Ryan Devereaux of what happened to the 43 in Mexico, accompanied by Keith Dannemiller’s photo essay from Omeapa, where three of the missing students came from.

    Till the end of May, middle- and high-school students can enter a food-themed essay contest as part of Chipotle’s Cultivating Thought project. Winners get $20,000 toward their college fund, and to see their musings on the same fast-food wrappers that have borne the words of Jonathan Safran Foer (who’s helping judge the prize alongside Like Water for Chocolate author Laura Esquivel), Toni Morrison, and George Saunders.

    While beginning-middle-end still seems like a winning formula for stories, Aeon has a piece reminding us what a historically specific one it is, and how the “sprawling, untidy, infinite… multi-directional” narratives of serials, immersive theater, and above all, gossip, are the kind we’ve all loved for much, much longer.

    Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut’s fourth novel and apparently the only one aside from Slaughterhouse-Five the author would have graded A-plus, has been optioned for television.

  • May 4, 2015

    Rhapsody, says the New York Times, is not just an airline magazine but a “lofty” literary journal. “An airline might seem like an odd literary patron,” the article claims. “But as publishers and writers look for new ways to reach readers in a shaky retail climate, many have formed corporate alliances with transit companies, including American Airlines, JetBlue and Amtrak, that provide a captive audience.”

    Ruth Rendell

    Ruth Rendell

    The popular British crime writer Ruth Rendell has died at age eighty-five. Rendell, who has been compared to Patricia Highsmith for her “fixation on criminal misfits,” wrote more than sixty novels, including a series of procedurals featuring the beloved inspector Reg Wexford.

    As one of the curators of this year’s PEN World Voices Festival, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the bestselling Nigerian novelist, is hoping to “to show audiences Africa’s range of stories.” The festival, which starts tonight, will feature a number of events focused on Africa and the African diaspora, including a discussion between Teju Cole, Nathalie Handal, and Binyavanga Wainaina, and a closing-night lecture by Adichie.

    Contemplating the recent implosion at the New Republic, author and Bookforum editor Chris Lehmann felt that he was witnessing something familiar. “All this had come rushing back because once upon a time, I had lived through it too, in my late, unlamented career as an online news executive in that labyrinth of high-octane managerial passive-aggression known as Yahoo News,” writes Lehmann, who recounts the nightmare in detail at the Baffler.

     

  • May 1, 2015

    CD10WYHUUAETBzJAs Time magazine’s Baltimore cover recalls 1968, a reminder to the media to think twice about misusing MLK. Historian N. D. B. Connolly has a useful op-ed on the context for events in Baltimore, while Karen Attiah imagines how Western media might cover them if they were happening elsewhere in the world.

    Obama has announced a new reading scheme for low-income students: US publishers including Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group and Simon & Schuster will provide $250m in free ebooks.

    A year after the firing of Jill Abramson as executive editor of the New York Times, and the debate that followed, Susan Glasser of Politico has hosted a roundtable with Abramson, Slate’s chief Julia Turner and Susan Goldberg (EIC of National Geographic) about the “pipeline problem”, and why it’s still the case that fewer women than you’d expect are making it to the top jobs in journalism. A delightfully weird piece on Erik Wemple’s Washington Post blog suggests that Glasser herself (who, he notes, used to run the Post’s national news department and was removed after a year and a half) may be part of the problem: Wemple lists 29 female Politico staffers (including several in “leadership” posts) who’ve left since Glasser took over six months ago, and speculates as to why. He also includes COO Kim Kingsley’s response to his request for comment: “Your obsession with Susan is unsettling and strange. For a company loaded with top women leaders . . . your fixation on who left and when and what does it mean seems never-ending and tedious. But thank you for your intense interest in Politico.”

    The Rumpus interviews Michelle Tea about writing a book in the “I used to be a wild dirt bag and then I got my shit together—here’s how I did it” genre, and the importance of finding an agent with “no illusions about how homophobic publishing is.”

    Starlee Kine, one of This American Life’s most memorable contributors (who once handled a break-up by writing a pop song and playing it to Phil Collins for feedback), will be hosting a new podcast called Mystery Show. You can email mysteries@gimletmedia.com to submit your own mystery, as long as it’s definitively unGoogleable.

  • April 30, 2015

    Shulamith Firestone posters

    Shulamith Firestone posters

    As the crackdown continues in Baltimore, and solidarity protesters are arrested in New York, there has been anger over media coverage in major outlets like the Washington Post, which published this story, based on a “police document” it had “obtained,” suggesting that Freddie Gray had somehow caused his own injuries in custody.

    Jonathan Katz, author of The Big Truck that Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, who reported from Port-au-Prince during the 2010 earthquake, has words of warning for journalists rushing into Nepal.

    The dispute over PEN America’s awarding a so-called Freedom of Expression Courage prize to Charlie Hebdo has grown. After six writers withdrew from the upcoming PEN gala earlier this week, twenty-six more have signed a letter of protest saying, “There is a critical difference between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression.” On Monday, PEN America president Andrew Solomon defended the decision to give the award to Charlie Hebdo, telling The Guardian, “if we only endorsed freedom of speech for people whose speech we liked that would be a very limited notion of freedom of speech. . . . It’s a courage award, not a content award.” Meanwhile, one of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists, Rénald Luzier (aka Luz), has said that he will no longer draw the Prophet Muhammad: “I’ve gotten tired of it, just as I got tired of drawing Sarkozy.”

    James Risen, whose seven-year battle to protect his confidential sources, and thus the ability of journalists to report on issues the government doesn’t want reported, has a story about the American Psychological Association’s secret collaboration with the Bush administration to justify torture.

    The New Yorker is teaming up with the station WNYC to produce a weekly one-hour national radio show and podcast. Terry Gross, be warned.

    If you’re in London tomorrow night, Verso Books and queer feminist film curators Club des Femmes are holding a night of screenings and readings to celebrate the republication (not a moment too soon) of Shulamith Firestone’s 1970 book The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution.

  • April 29, 2015

    250px-MausBookstores in Moscow are removing copies of Art Spiegelman’s Maus from the shelves, because the graphic novel has a swastika on the cover. The author told The Guardian, “I don’t think Maus was the intended target for this, obviously. . . But I think [the law banning Nazi propaganda] had an intentional effect of squelching freedom of expression in Russia. The whole goal seems to make anybody in the expression business skittish.”

    President Obama criticized the media’s coverage of the unrest in Baltimore yesterday, saying that the coverage of isolated acts of violence obscures the larger issues, adding, “If we really wanted to solve the problem, we could . . . It would require everybody saying, ‘this is important, this is significant,’ and not just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns or a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped.”

    In a somewhat unlikely pairing, Disney and Vice will be making the magic happen together: A&E Networks will turn over a whole channel to Shane Smith and co., who’ll launch by early 2016. Vice gives its take on news to HBO, so this one will be strictly “lifestyle programming.” Let’s hope this means A&E will succeed in “drawing more young viewers” (apparently the goal), and that the Vice employees Gawker’s been worrying about may get a few extra perks.

    Google has announced it will spend about $165 million on a Digital News Initiative in Europe, providing grants to newspapers and publishers in an attempt to win them over. Google executive Carlo D’Asaro Biondo recently told a London conference that the company has made mistakes in how they’ve handled Google News in Europe: “I think we didn’t listen enough. We said ‘we know,’ and to be honest we didn’t know. . .  . It is sometimes messy, happens in random ways, and sometimes we fail.”

    When ghostwriters attack: Courtney Love is being sued by Anthony Bozza, author of a 123,375-word manuscript for her long-awaited memoir, Girl with the Most Cake, which after missing several release dates, probably won’t be seeing the light of day. Pity the biographer whose subject is still around to make trouble (Mr. Bozza must be used to it, as he’s previously worked on autobiographies for Wyclef Jean and Tracy Morgan). Judith Shulevitz writes of Zachary Leader’s new book on Saul Bellow: “As Leader admits, he had a big advantage over his predecessors. By the time he began doing his research, Bellow was dead, no longer able to deploy the evasiveness shading into nastiness with which he’d sabotaged so many previous efforts to uncover his secrets.” She also quotes Bellow himself on the subject, writing to a friend in 1990: “I am no more keen about a biography than I am about reserving a plot for myself at 26th and Harlem Avenue.”

  • April 28, 2015

    The Wire’s David Simon spoke up on his website about events in Baltimore, where the National Guard was called out and a curfew declared after anger surged in response to yet another death in police custody (Freddie Gray’s funeral took place yesterday). Ta-Nehisi Coates saw the situation very differently: “When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse.

    Teju Cole

    Teju Cole

    Six writers—Peter Carey, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Teju Cole, Francine Prose, and Taiye Selasi—have withdrawn from PEN’s annual gala in protest at the organization’s decision to give its Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the French paper Charlie Hebdo. “A hideous crime was committed,” Peter Carey said, “but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?” Salman Rushdie took umbrage, calling the six “fellow travellers” of “fanatical Islam”: “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.” Teju Cole, whose response at the time of the Paris attacks was among the most thoughtful, told the Intercept: “I would rather honor Raif Badawi, Avijit Roy, Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning, who have also paid steeply for their courage, but whose ideals are much more progressive than Charlie’s. I would like an acknowledgement of the Kenyan students who were murdered for no greater crime than being college students. And, if we are talking about free speech, I would rather PEN shed more light on the awful effects of governmental spying in the US, and the general issue of surveillance.

    This week in straight white men: The Awl advises on what to do if you detest the male stranglehold on publishing and yet are a man with something you’re just dying to publish. And from Vox, a helpful account of the latest sally in the “war for the soul of nerd culture”: rigging the Hugo Awards (sci-fi’s Pulitzers), Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, so-called “social justice agitators”… It’s all here, if you want it.

    Kobo, the Canadian ebook retailer and maker of ereaders, is becoming a publisher with the upcoming release of Jian Ghomeshi: Secret Life, about the disgraced former CBC host now facing multiple sexual assault charges.

    Yet more Knausgaard! He told an interviewer he’s misunderstood: “I’m well known for being very, very serious. Very un-ironic. Very… I mean I have been crying on Norwegian TV. That’s the image of me being that kind of figure, but in my writing I can write things I find very funny, and some people don’t understand that I’m trying to be funny. They just don’t believe that I could be able to make a joke even.

    Adam Thirlwell will launch his novel Lurid and Cute tomorrow night; he’ll be talking to Sam Lipsyte at McNally Jackson on Thursday.

  • April 27, 2015

    Tonight, St. Joseph’s College is hosting a birthday tribute to the late, great novelist Gilbert Sorrentino. Organized by Doubleday editor (and Bookforum contributor) Gerald Howard and Greenlight Bookstore, the event will feature readings and discussions of his work by a stellar group of admirers, including Don DeLillo, Sam Lipsyte, Joshua Cohen, Christopher Sorrentino, Mark Chiusano, and James Wolcott.

    Alexis Madrigal

    Alexis Madrigal

    Alexis Madrigal, a former reporter at The Atlantic and the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology, has been named Fusion’s new editor in chief. Hillary Frey, director of global news operations, has been named executive editor, and Anna Holmes, editor of digital voices and storytelling, is becoming editorial director. In his memo announcing the new positions, Fusion CEO Isaac Lee stated: “We highlight voices that aren’t being heard and we create media no one else can. We have faith in the power of youth and humor and new ideas. We side with the street. And we’re building a brand that will mean something to the most diverse generation America has ever seen.”

    “Over the last six years, a confluence of forces have eroded the foundation of the relationship between the White House and the reporters who cover it most regularly,” writes Hadas Gold and Sarah Wheaton at Politico. One significant change is the rise of social media, which has allowed the White House to get messages to the public without the press. Now, the White House press corps is circulating a document that it hopes will establish principles that the White House will adhere to when dealing with reporters, who are hoping to reestablish or at least retain their eroding access to the president.

    Wired, taking its cue from the Tumblr page “Kindle Cover Disasters,” has inaugurated a series of reviews of “absurd self-published e-books.” The first title considered is Lawrence Ambrose’s Moira: The Zorzen War (The Divided Worlds Book 3), in which the title heroine navigates a strange embattled land of satyrs and Zorzen, who are “evil cultish lizard-men who practice a perverted form of Christianity and seek total domination over this alien world.”

    At Salon, Corey Robin notes George Packer’s inability to get excited about the 2016 campaign, and quips: “When George Packer gets bored, I get worried. It means he’s in the mood for war.” It’s a tough-minded piece, with some very harsh words for Packer’s coverage of Gore and Iraq. The headline, however, could use some work. “Our perverse centrist patriots: Everything the elite media gets wrong about American politics” misrepresents the story, and was most likely written in the hopes of luring readers.

  • April 24, 2015

    Nightmare lunch date Karl Ove Knausgaard

    Nightmare lunch date Karl Ove Knausgaard

    Without direct reference to the New Republic or its attack on him, Cornel West has responded on Facebook, noting the many reasons aside from sour grapes that one might have for criticising an American president (see today’s headlines for one example), and writing that “character assassination is the refuge of those who hide and conceal these issues in order to rationalize their own allegiance to the status quo.

    In his review of the latest Knausgaard installment, which will run in this Sunday’s New York Times, Jeffrey Eugenides brings some special expertise to bear, not just as a novelist, but as a man. Knausgaard’s travel saga for the NYT magazine included a paragraph about an excruciatingly awkward lunch with “a well-known American writer” in which the Norwegian barely spoke. Knausgaard didn’t reveal the name of his unfortunate lunch date, Eugenides writes: “But I will: It was me.” (Observers will note that these two don’t seem to have trouble thinking of things to say to each other as long as it’s in public.) Eugenides speculates that he “may be the first reviewer of Knausgaard’s autobiographical works who has appeared in one of them. Therefore, I’m in a perfect position to judge how he uses the stuff of his life to fashion his stories.” Spoiler: he’s still a KOK fan.

    Like so many authors, Eugenides seems to empathize in particular with one aspect of the fictionalized Knausgaard’s titular ”struggle,” the effort to write “something exceptional”, which is “hard to do right now because the world is awash in stories.” The Brooklyn writer Jonathan Basile is feeling this problem ever more keenly since he decided to build a version of Jorge Luis Borges’s Library of Babel in the form of a website (confusing for people who’ve been reading the Borges version as a precursor to the Internet all along). Basile told Flavorwire he still sees himself mainly as a writer of fiction, “but I sometimes wonder what the point is now. I’ve already published every possible story I could write.” Still, coding the site “really increased my desire to permute things”—his Twitter account attempting all possible permutations of 140 characters is called Permuda Triangle.

    If all that makes you long for your analogue days, Miranda July has just released Somebody 2.0, the new version of her app that allows users to send real-life messages via passing strangers.

    M.H. Abrams, distinguished scholar of Romanticism and editor of the first seven editions of that stalwart, the Norton Anthology of English Literature, has died at 102. When the anthology turned 50, Abrams told an interviewer that he loved meeting middle-aged readers who said: “I still have the Norton Anthology that I used 20 years ago. I have it at my bed’s head, and I read it at night, and I enjoy it.

    Those in the market for some soothing bedtime reading will be glad to know that Reese Witherspoon is to record the audiobook for Harper Lee’s long delayed and much debated Go Set a Watchman.

    On the other hand, you might want to stay up for tonight’s twenty-four-hour orgy of philosophizing on Fifth Avenue. (The event has proved controversial, though, so it may be that the promised all-night coffee and morning croissants won’t be tempting enough.)

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