• August 11, 2014

    Jim Frederick

    Jim Frederick

    The New York Times reports that journalist Jim Frederick—the author of Black Hearts: One Platoon’s Descent Into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death—has died. The Times obituary describes Black Hearts as documenting “the intense and withering experience of a group of men who were poorly commanded, overwhelmed with stress and witness to myriad bloody calamities, including the deaths of comrades.”

    Politico reports that Amazon has hired a group of lobbyists and wooed members of Congress in an attempt to build its political influence: “Amazon’s aggressive tactics were on display in July, when the Federal Trade Commission prepared to sue it for allowing kids to rack up big bills in its app store. The company went on the offensive, pre-emptively releasing details of the lawsuit while writing FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez with a pledge to fight in court. Amazon even recruited support on Capitol Hill, getting Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) to slam the agency’s approach.”

    Django Gold’s New Yorker story “Sonny Rollins: In His Own Words”—in which he writes “jazz might be the stupidest thing anyone ever came up with”—was satire (Gold is on staff at the Onion), but many readers are taking it very seriously. Rollins himself has responded, saying that the piece would have worked in MAD magazine, but that in the New Yorker, the humor was out of context. (“It hurt me,” he claimed.) Now Justin Moyer at the Washington Post has weighed in with an article titled “All that Jazz Isn’t All that Great,” which seems to be satire (“Improvisation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be”), but, unfortunately, is not.

    Paul Berman’s “The Rise and Fall of a Radical Journalist” (at the New Republic) is a snide appraisal of Alexander Cockburn, the Village Voice and Nation columnist who died in 2012. Berman’s condescending piece—in part a review of Cockburn’s A Colossal Wreck—has inspired some thoughtful conversation, particularly George Scialabba’s response: “The Assassin’s Fate: Paul Berman Shoots and Misses (Again).”

    More than nine hundred authors, including Stephen King, have signed an open letter from author Douglas Preston to readers, asking them to challenge Jeff Bezos’s tactics against Hachette.


  • August 8, 2014

    Yelena Akhtiorskaya

    Yelena Akhtiorskaya

    “The permanent retainer behind Liza’s uninsured upper front teeth had endured some irremediable catastrophe, leaving her bowl of cereal unchomped for the first time in decades.” So begins “Sentimental Driftwood,” a story by Yelena Akhtiorskaya, whose first book, Panic in a Suitcase, has just been released by Riverhead. The story begins: Carla Blumenkranz recently interviewed Akhtiorskaya for Bookforum.

    At the LRB, the novelist Helen DeWitt describes being stalked at her family cottage in Vermont. When her stalker is finally, after many months, arrested, the sentence he receives is minimal. He has been punished for a single incident, a break-in, and not the months of harassment DeWitt endured. The victim advocate explains that DeWitt had “weakened the case” by not seeming intimidated or fearful in her deposition. In other words, she “had failed to convince as damsel in distress.”

    At Slate, Laura Miller praises Haruki Murakami’s avoidance of the “coyness and elision that plagues so much American literary fiction.”

    Russia has granted Edward Snowden a three-year permit—not asylum, but a “normal residential permit”— to live in the country.

    “Novel” once described a work of fiction. Now people use it to describe…just about any book.

    The saga of Amazon continues. A long list of writers—including Maxine Hong Kingston, ZZ Packer, Michael Pollan, Junot Díaz, Jennifer Egan, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Claire Messud, Ann Patchett, and Cheryl Strayed—scold the company in an open letter. And the New York Times looks into an alliance between Google and Barnes & Noble against their mutual rival.

  • August 7, 2014

    The New Inquiry’s August issue, on the unseasonable theme of “Mourning,” is out. From the editors’ note: “A good death is the deal life made with us, or vice versa: a world of intensities and sensations, for the price of its end. But the ubiquity of colonial and capitalist murder breaks the pact between life and death by rendering both bleakly arbitrary.”

    Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Guernica “grows up,” according to The Rumpus. The online magazine has hired its first full-time publisher and has a print edition in the works.

    Carrie Brownstein has agreed to write a screenplay based on the British “Lost in Austen” series. The movie will be about a Brooklyn woman in a Jane Austen world.

    Sheila Heti gathers quotes from “great folks”—some dead, some not—for her ongoing Twitter series. She also interviews Joan Didion.

    The Washington Post says “relax: the death of the bookshop has been greatly exaggerated.”

    The Atlantic collates some of the Times’s dutiful explanations of slang over the years. A jay is a “slang term for a marijuana cigarette.” Macking is “a slang term for making out.” Acid is “a slang term for the drug LSD.”

    Greg Coleman has been named president of Buzzfeed.


  • August 6, 2014

    Jeffery Renard Allen

    Jeffery Renard Allen

    Tonight at 7pm, we’ll be at BookCourt to see a stellar group of authors—all faculty of Farleigh Dickinson’s MFA program—read their work: Jeffrey Renard Allen (Song of the Shank), Rene Steinke (Friendswood), David Grand (Mount Terminus), Thomas E. Kennedy (Beneath the Neon Egg), and H.L. Hix (As Much as, If Not More Than).

    n+1 on paying writers: “For a young writer who hopes to produce literature, the greatest difference between now and twenty years ago may be that now she expects to get paid. Twenty years ago, art and commerce appeared to be opposing forces. The more you were paid for your work, the more likely you were to be a hack.”

    The Academy of American Poets has expanded its Walt Whitman Award, which recognizes a first book by an American poet, to include publication by Graywolf Press and a trip to a residency in Umbria, Italy. The winner also receives a $5,000 cash prize. The judge of the 2015 contest will be Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Tracy K. Smith. Writers yet to publish a full-length book of poetry may submit a manuscript, for a thirty-five dollar entry fee, between September 1 and November 1.

    The longlist for the 2014 National Translation award names Eugene Ostashevsky, Matvei Yankelevich, Heather Cleary, and Damion Searls, among others. Searls last wrote for Bookforum about W. G. Sebald.

    The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle must pay legal fees of $30,679.93 in a case brought by the co-editor of a book of contemporary stories about the character Sherlock Holmes. Most of Conan Doyle’s stories are now in the public domain; only ten remain under copyright. But it’s those ten stories in particular, the estate insisted, that “create much of Sherlock Holmes’s emotion and human warmth.” The judge in the case, Richard Posner, was unimpressed, and called the estate’s practices “disreputable.”

    Lauren Kern joins New York Magazine as executive editor. She was formerly editor at the New York Times Magazine.

  • August 5, 2014

    Bookforum is now available as an app! You may download our Summer issue for free at the iTunes store. Single issues and one-year subscriptions will be available for purchase with the launch of our next issue, out in early September.

    John Oliver

    John Oliver

    In a recent episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver had words for publishers using native advertising (i.e., ads that have the appearance of news stories), to bolster revenues. In Oliver’s view, native ads will erode public trust in the media. The comedian specifically targeted The Atlantic, for its much-maligned scientology ad in early 2013, and the New York Times for its watershed “Orange is the New Black” ad back in June of this year.

    The Times interviews the “legendarily combative privacy and national security reporter” Glenn Greenwald in Rio de Janeiro, where he lives. The journalist’s house, on a mountain overlooking the city, is protected by a number of large dogs; the Internet often goes out in the frequent rainstorms.

    Not unlike the rest of publishing, teen heartthrob magazines have run into hard times. The latest casualty: Bop, with “covers featuring boy band stock photos splashed atop garish fuchsia backdrops since 1983.” For a graveyard of extinct teen magazines, head to The Hairpin.

    According to Politico, “it’s the summer of anti-Clinton books”; the Christian Science Monitor wonders whether the anti-Clinton books are “a good sign” for Hillary. The former First Lady and Secretary of State may be poised for a White House run. The cover of her biography, at least, looks quite presidential.

  • August 4, 2014

    Tired of complaints about Amazon, Chris Kubica recently spoke with people in the publishing industry about what they thought would make a superior e-book store. “The premise was simple: if we—as readers, writers, publishers, agents, librarians, and booksellers—were given unlimited time and resources to build our own vision of e-book nirvana, what features would it have that are either lacking at Amazon or that exist only in bits and pieces across a disconnected e-book ecosystem?” One conclusion: stay small. “Ultimately, we found that perhaps the best way to get traction against a dominant player like Amazon is not to build something equally titanic, but to build something wee, something human.”

    James Knowlson, author of a biography of Samuel Beckett titled Damned to Fame, has turned up new, formerly classified information about Beckett’s involvement with the Resistance during World War II.

    26003-v1-124xPublisher’s Weekly has named the “most anticipated books of Fall 2014.”

    Jason Diamond, who has covered books at Flavorwire, is moving to Men’s Journal.

    Monica Lewinski is now a contributor to Vanity Fair, Beth Kseniak, a spokesperson for the magazine, has told Politico. “There is no set schedule or subject area, but she and her editor are on the lookout for relevant topics of interest,” says Kseniak.


  • August 1, 2014

    The New Inquiry is closing in on its $25,000 goal in a fundraising campaign that ends today. If the (excellent) online magazine reaches its goal, an anonymous donor will kick in a matching $25,000 gift.

    Kate Bolick

    Kate Bolick

    The writer Kate Bolick, who hosts a literary interview series at Edith Wharton’s country estate, the Mount, has compiled a guide to entertaining that takes cues from Wharton’s life and literature. Bolick’s first tip (“Chapter 1: Police the Guest List”) begins: “Only invite people you really like—otherwise there’s no point.”

    McSweeney’s is launching a short-story contest for undergraduate and graduate students. The fee to enter is $55, and gets you an annual subscription to the magazine. The winner will receive $500 and their story will be published in the August 2015 issue. (N.b.: Contests are a racket! This is probably a good idea only if you would otherwise subscribe to the magazine, which costs $60.)

    The Amazon team has released a statement about their recent dispute with Hachette, which involved Amazon blocking pre-orders of Hachette books. The update piously names lowering the cost of e-books as a key objective.

    Former President George W. Bush’s biography of his father is set to be released in November of this year. Crown publisher Maya Mavjee describes the book as “heartfelt, intimate, and illuminating.” The Charlotte Observer assures its readers that it was written by Bush himself—the only “assistance” he had was with “research.”

    Listen to Lynne Tillman speak with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW’s Bookworm about her recent collection of essays, What Would Lynne Tillman Do? Bookforum reviewed her “unruly, personal, and provocative” criticism in our April/May issue.

  • July 31, 2014


    Margot Adler

    Margot Adler

    NPR correspondent Margot Adler died on Tuesday at age 68. She had worked as a general-assignment reporter, as New York bureau chief,  and as a political and cultural correspondent, and for nine years was the host of “Justice Talking,” a show about public policy. She identified as pagan. In 1979, she wrote Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today.

    PEN has announced its 2014 literary award-winners. Notably, Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott won the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for Critical Mass, and Frank Bidart’s Metaphysical Dog won the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry—a fine opportunity to revisit Bookforum’s review of the “deeply personal, vigorously intellectual, and remarkably unsimple” collection.

    David Frum apologizes for casting doubt, last week on Twitter, on the authenticity of photographs from Gaza.

    Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Goldfinch, has been optioned by Warner Brothers and will be produced by Brett Ratner’s RatPac Entertainment. Warner Brothers also owns the films rights to Tartt’s 1992 novel, The Secret History. Bookforum happened to cast the film back in February.

    At seventeen, Jacqueline Lee Bouvier explained her feelings to her Harvard boyfriend like so: “I’ve always thought of being in love as being willing to do anything for the other person—starve to buy them bread and not mind living in Siberia with them—and I’ve always thought that every minute away from them would be hell—so looking at it that [way] I guess I’m not in love with you.” She’d been losing interest for a while: Three months earlier, she’d written, “”I do love you though—and can love you without kissing you every time I see you and I hope you understand that.” It was her birthday on Monday. She would have been eighty-five.

    T.C. Boyle’s East is East includes a character called “La Dershowitz,” a young writer of high ambitions and meager talent who writes restaurant reviews. At the Paris Review blog, Michelle Huneven reveals that the character was clearly based on her: She knew Boyle, who called her “La Huneven”; she wrote restaurant reviews; she was an aspiring novelist. Huneven describes the pain of recognizing herself in the “talentless airhead poseur trying to break into the hallowed world of literature,” the ”sense of powerlessness and an utter lack of recourse.” And yet people who recognize themselves in their friends’ work should remember that  “‘You’ve been fictionalized’ actually means, ‘You’ve been exaggerated!’ (Or downplayed!).”

  • July 30, 2014

    Christian Rudder

    Christian Rudder

    OkCupid’s popular blog, OkTrends, is back after a three-year hiatus. Written by Christian Rudder, a co-founder of the dating website, the blog returns with a post mocking Facebook’s recent data-collection scandal—not making fun of Facebook, as you might think, but rather what Rudder considers the naive outrage of its users: “Guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work.” OkTrends, after all, is built on data gathered from OkCupid users. Rudder describes one experiment in which they gave people a faulty “match percentage” to see if they were more likely like each other when told by the app that they should. (They were.) Rudder has a book on data, Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), forthcoming from Crown in September.

    First Look owner Pierre Omidyar provides an “update” to readers. The nine-month-old media company has hired twenty-five journalists, and plans to hire twenty-five more by the end of the year. They’ll stay in the “planning, startup and experimental mode for at least the next few years,” Omidyar says.

    Thirty-two thousand digital-only subscribers joined the Times in the second quarter of 2014, for a total of 831,000 online subscriptions.

    On the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog, Abigail Deutsch investigates the origins of a mysterious unsigned poem on a sign in Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park. And editors provide a roundup of New Yorker stories about New York, including one by John Cheever. The magazine’s entire archive is temporarily free online, and will likely remain that way into the fall.

    Christopher Kempf considers Amtrak’s attempt to rebrand with an artist’s residency: “Amtrak’s conception of writers’ work . . . remains just as romanticized as the ideal of rail travel it’s attempting to promote.”

  • July 29, 2014

    In the UK, nine million fewer books were given as gifts in 2013. In the United States, gifts counted for 22 percent of book sales, a drop from 24 percent the year prior. Digital e-books counted for a quarter of all book purchases.

    Forty-four states plus Washington DC have poet laureates or writer in residence positions, many of these dating from the past twenty years. Certain cities, including Boston and Los Angeles, have created similar posts. The roles of the poet laureates vary. Some have taken an activist role: Joseph Brodsky tried to get poetry books in every hotel room in the country; Rita Dove brought young poets from Washington to read their work at the Library of Congress. Sometimes they’re commissioned by the state to write commemorative poems. Billy Collins, asked to write a poem to be read before a joint session of Congress on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, said he had to resist the pressure to write a certain kind of poem, one mentioning “the first responders and their heroic job” and “something positive about the future of the country.”

    Sarah Palin is launching a TV channel online—according to her, “a news channel that really is a lot more than news.”

    At Salon, Jim Sleeper is annoyed by the hypocrisy of magazines who mainly employ the Ivy-educated but nonetheless join William Deresiewicz—whose book, Excellent Sheep, is forthcoming next month—in dismissing the Ivies. Sleeper wrote about Excellent Sheep for our summer issue. At In These Times, Bookforum editor Chris Lehmann also reviews the book, which offers a surprising amount of advice to would-be students. As the “small-bore counsel piles up . . . you realize that, for all his declamations, Deresiewicz remains obsessed with the fine-tuning of elite experience.” Instead, Lehmann advises, we should nationalize the Ivy League.

    Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, explains how he works—including the notebooks he uses, the process by which he writes the show, and some of the software and hardware used in its production. Except for living a few blocks from where he works, he has “no time-saving tricks at all,” he insisted. The most challenging part of his work is moving among various tasks: “The new task is like icy water you have to dive into. The old task is a warm bath.”