• January 9, 2014

    The New York Times’s redesign, unveiled yesterday, has lots of white space, minimal clutter, and embedded multimedia and comments. The Times also now features sponsored articles (“advertorials”), which are conspicuously marked (the public editor has posted info about how these “native ads” work). Behind the scenes, the new site has an advanced analytics system, which will track and tag data about readers, and Times’s web designers are said to be monitoring users’ reaction to the site and making adjustments.

    christopher isherwood and dan bachardy

    Christopher Isherwood and Dan Bachardy, circa 1976

    A new book of love letters by Christopher Isherwood and his boyfriend Dan Bachardy is sweet, gossipy, and, as the TLS notes, more than a little twee: “When Kitty [Bachardy] signs off a letter to Dobbin [Isherwood] ‘with basketfuls of furred love and musical purrs’ your response may be a shudder, or a snort, or something more emphatic. But archness aside (and there’s archness aplenty), this volume is rewarding in all sorts of unexpected ways.”

    The British National Archives has for the first time posted online the last wills and testaments of a number of famous writers, including William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and William Wordsworth, who was careful to specify that the entire content of his liquor cabinet should go “absolutely” to his widow. However, as The Guardian points out, “Not every writer gets his or her way in death: literary history would be the poorer without the disobedience of Kafka’s friend Max Brod, who couldn’t bring himself to burn his friend’s work, or Hemingway’s widow, who ignored her husband’s request, in a document written three years before his death, that none of his letters should be made public.”

    Like a cross between a trainwreck and internet porn, the New York Observer has issued its annual list of media power couples, replete with stats, stories, and a slide show.

    Sixteen novels from Morocco to Iraq have made it to the long list of the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, otherwise known as the Arabic Booker. Three Percent, the University of Rochester’s blog about international literature, has synopses of them all, from Ibrahim Abdelmeguid’s Clouds Over Alexandria, set in the 1970s, to Khaled Khalifa’s No Knives in this City’s Kitchens, about the breakdown of the state in Syria, as told through the story of a single family.

  • January 8, 2014

    amelia gray

    Amelia Gray

    When a reader wrote to Amelia Gray to complain that nothing happened in her novel Threats, she wrote back with spy-worthy instructions, a story, and a check.

    The category winners of the Costa Book Awards have been announced, and the winners include Kate Atkinson (for Life After Life), Nathan Filer (for The Shock of the Fall), and Lucy Hughes-Hallet (for her biography of Gabriele D’Annunizo). All of these authors are now in the running for the grand prize, which will be announced on January 28.

    “The things that the tech boom’s golden boys said last year,” writes Rebecca Solnit in response to a takedown on Grist, “are examples of privilege at its most reprehensible.”

    Of all the controversies that have clung to the Jaipur Literature Festival, the lack of participating writers from the surrounding state of Rajasthan is an issue that organizers and critics tend to agree on. Perhaps for that reason, this year’s event, running January 17-21, includes numerous panels on Rajasthani writing, music, and folklore. “The festival is rooted in the vibrant local culture of the state, its rich oral traditions, its joyous music, its poetic and balladic traditions,” says festival co-director Namita Gokhale in the Times of India. Among the many writers lined up to speak this year are Amartya Sen, Geoff Dyer, Jonathan Franzen, Rivka Galchen, Jhumpa Lahiri, and more.

    A trove of historical documents from the Civil War and the Reconstruction era have been destroyed in North Carolina. Here’s a theory as to why.

    Say hello to the new Ms. Marvel, a 16-year-old Muslim superhero from New Jersey, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and scripted by G. Willow Wilson, author of Alif the Unseen.

  • January 7, 2014

    jorge luis borges

    Jorge Luis Borges

    As a boy, Jorge Luis Borges carried a small dagger, a gift from his father, who told him to use it against his bullies to prove he was a man. For years thereafter, writes Michael Greeenberg in the New York Review of Books, Borges “prowled the obscure barrios of Buenos Aires, seeking the company of cuchilleros, knife fighters, who represented to him a form of authentic criollo nativism that he wished to know and absorb.”

    Can anyone step up to compete with Amazon? Two contenders have just consolidated, as Zola, an independent website, buys Bookish, an online portal formed by Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette.

    Kingsley Amis harbored such bitterness for his ex-wife Elizabeth Jane Howard that he refused her request to visit him on his death bed. Clearly, his son saw things differently. Here, Martin Amis pays surprisingly loving tribute to his late stepmother, who saved him from another life: “I was a semi-literate truant and waster,” he says, “whose main interest was hanging around in betting shops.”

    Forbes’s list of the 30 under 30, who are “building the media companies of tomorrow” contains many fresh-faced entrepreneurs and leaders of companies like Mashable, Circa, and other digest of content on the go, as well as Tavi Gevinson of Rookie and Rachel Rosenfelt of the New Inquiry.

    At the Paris Review, Sadie Stein is leaving her post editing the magazine’s blog, The Daily, to become a contributing editor and writer, with Dan Piepenbring taking over blog-editing duties from her.

    Rare criticism on the heels of a well-known fortnightly’s golden anniversary: “For 50 years,” writes Russell Jacoby in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New York Review of Books “withdrew from the cultural bank while making few deposits.”

  • January 6, 2014

    Morrissey

    Morrissey

    Morrissey is at work on a novel and a new album (in that order). In a recent interview, Moz says he’s lost faith in pop music and wants to write instead, claiming that his memoir, Autobiography, “was more successful than any record I’ve ever released.”

    Researchers at Emory University have discovered that reading novels exercises the brain. “We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense,” says neuroscientist Gregory Berns. “Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

    At the Times, OR books publisher Colin Robinson weighs in on the state of publishing today, particularly the worrying trend of the disappearing midlist, “the space where interesting things happen in the book world, where the obscure or the offbeat can spring to prominence, where new writers can make their mark.”

    A journalist for Guns & Ammo magazine has been fired for using too much nuance on the topic of gun control.

    A gang of extremists in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli has torched a library of rare and ancient reading material, burning some 78,000 books.

    George Saunders on genius, irony, and allowing a little bit of light into a story: “How’s life been? It’s been a lot of things, but one thing it’s been predominantly is beautiful, pleasurable. So I want that to have a place at the table that isn’t sentimental or schmaltzy. It’s earned.”

  • January 3, 2014

    The lawyer who outed J.K. Rowling as the author of detective novel published under a pseudonym last year has been fined in the UK for breaking client confidentiality rules. Rowling wrote The Cuckoo’s Calling under the name Robert Galbraith in April 2013. The lawyer, Chris Gossage, told his wife, who told a friend, who in turn told a newspaper columnist.

    The villa in Egypt’s second largest city, where Lawrence Durrell lived and was inspired to write “The Alexandria Quartet,” is slated for demolition, reports The Guardian. “If bulldozed, Durrell’s crumbling former home would become the 36th listed building from Alexandria’s fin-de-siècle heyday to be demolished in five years,” writes Patrick Kingsley. “But the businessman who owns it says it may soon make way for a high-rise apartment block.”

    David Simon—creator of The Wire, author of Homicide: A Year of Killing on the Streets, and former Baltimore Sun reporter—has reportedly finished a draft of a musical about the Pogues.

    Edwidge Danticat

    Edwidge Danticat

    Edwidge Danticat delves into the form and power of the short story, in an interview with the Rumpus: “The short story is like an exquisite painting,” she says, “and you might, when looking at this painting, be wondering what came before or after, but you are fully absorbed in what you’re seeing. Your gaze is fixed, and you are fully engaged.”

    How was your Public Domain Day doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue as nicely as Happy New Year’s, but if you live in the US and desire the end of copyright restrictions, it was bad. Virtually no published works entered the public domain on January 1, 2014, due to the extension of copyright laws. What could have been, under an older body of laws from the 1970s? Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love.

  • January 2, 2014

    Ralph Ellison

    Ralph Ellison

    Shall we begin? The Guardian’s guide to the coming year runs through the likely literary landmarks of 2014: Hanif Kureishi on a fading writer being vexed by his young biographer, Alain de Botton on the news, Masha Gessen on the passion of Pussy Riot, retracing E.M. Forster’s travels in India, the third and final installment in Karl Ove Knausgård’s autobiographical trilogy, Ralph Ellison’s centenary, and more.

    Danielle Steel has been awarded the French Legion of Honor, making her the latest American to win France’s most prestigious prize. Steel, a writer of thrillers who is considered the bestselling author alive, joins a list of compatriots that ranges wildly from Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, and Toni Morrison to Alan Greenspan, David Petraeus, and Bruce Willis. In reporting the award, the New York Times tracked down some comments Steel once made to The Telegraph, outlinging her influences: “Well, I always go back to the classics,” she said. “I love French literature. Colette is a special favorite of mine.”

    The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is launching a new online magazine. Could it be the future of music journalism?

    The Millions reports on the long, slow death of Blockbuster: “I remember when my family got our first VCR in the mid-1980s. The first time we entered the florescent-lit jungle of a video store, I was instantly enamored,” writes Jeff Martin. “The mere fact that these memories are still rattling around my head nearly thirty years later must have some significance, right?”

    Egypt may be in a big political mess, but the Cairo book fair is carrying on.

    At Salon, Laura Miller admits to giving up on eight books she couldn’t bear to finish, including Joyce Carol Oates’s The Accursed and Daniel Alarcón’s At Night We Walk in Circles.

  • December 31, 2013

    As Al Jazeera demands the release of its four journalists detained in Egypt, the Committee to Protect Journalists has released a grim accounting of the year, declaring Egypt, Syria, and Iraq the most deadly nations in the world for the press. According to the report, seventy journalists have been killed for their work in 2013. Twenty-five more deaths are still under investigation.

    Margaret Mitchell

    Margaret Mitchell

    “The Great American Novel—always capitalized, like the United States of America itself—has to be a book that contains and explains the whole country,” writes Adam Kirsch in a review of Lawrence Buell’s The Dream of the Great American Novel. Surely, books such as Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom fit the script. But what about Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, which covers many of the same themes as Faulker’s masterpiece, outsold it by a factor of fifty to one, but hardly qualifies as an uncontested classic of American letters?

    In the meantime, the Millions estimates that there are currently some 250,000 novelists at work in America.

    The man behind the New York Times Magazine’s most striking cover designs is leaving, and moving to Apple.

    Soon to be spun off of Time Warner, Time Inc. is planning to strike out on its own.

    According to a federal judge in Chicago, Sherlock Holmes has tumbled out of copyright protection and into the public domain.

  • December 30, 2013

    Jeff Bezos

    Jeff Bezos

    Washington Post publisher Katherine Weymouth talks about the paper and its new owner, Jeff Bezos: “People have stopped wearing ties, that’s the biggest change around here” since Bezos bought the paper for $250 million last fall. The D.C. daily is in a “great position,” she says. “We have a credible brand, deeply engaged readers, [and we] cover Washington. And now we are owned by someone with deep pockets who cares what we do and is willing to invest for the long term.”

    For its end-of-the-year roundup, Salon asked critics to name their favorite books—and their least-likable characters.

    Gawker, meanwhile, has issued a list of the year’s least important writers, including Thomas Friedman, Malcolm Gladwell, Andrew Sullivan, and Elizabeth Wurtzel—ouch.

    At the Awl, Sharan Shetty looks at trends in design-font history.

    The Los Angeles Times shifts from looking back to looking forward with a preview of good books to come in 2014, including Cristina Henríquez’s The Book of Unknown Americans, “the great Delaware novel everyone’s been waiting for,” according to Hector Tobar.

    “There has always been something deliciously dubious about pulp.” No kidding! In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Kaavya Asoka reflects on the subversive charms of Tamil pulp fiction, as packaged in a new, multi-volume series of anthologies.

  • December 27, 2013

    As an alternative to the Queen’s annual Christmas missive, the UK’s Channel 4 aired a message from surveillance whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, warning of the dangers of a future without privacy—a future, he says, which will look and feel a lot worse than George Orwell’s 1984.

    Abu-Lughod

    Lila Abu-Lughod

    On the New York Times’ Arts Beat blog, anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod talks about her new book, Do Muslim Women Need Saving, inspired by the (craven, spurious, cynical) argument that the US went to war in Afghanistan to free women from the Taliban and liberate them from their burqas (Abu-Lughod’s argument is more measured and scholarly than Arundhati Roy’s mischievous, feisty diatribes on much the same subject, ie: “Can we bomb our way to a feminist paradise?”). After returning to Egypt to interview women about the everyday complications of their lives, Abu-Lughod report: “There’s no such thing as the Muslim woman. We know that. It’s common sense. But somehow it’s been lost as common sense.”

    A new non-profit organization in Detroit is offering free houses for writers in search of a residency or retreat.

    According to the Times of India, nonfiction ruled over fiction in 2013.

    In the days before Christmas, the Strand, that venerable New York City bookstore representing eighteen miles of books, reported the best sales in its eighty-six-year history, suggesting that books are not, in fact, dead. In the same last-minute shopping spree, the store also played host to at least two marriage proposals.

    Has the holiday season shattered your attention span? Fear not, at Salon, some thirty writers try their hands at some very short fiction, with no story running more than two sentences long.

  • December 24, 2013

    For six years, the New York Times not only held the story of Robert Levinson, an American spy on a CIA mission who went missing in Iran in 2007, but also repeatedly described Levinson’s visit to the country in a manner which the paper’s editorial writers and news reporters knew to be false. Public editor Margaret Sullivan weighs in on the reasons why.

    Mikhail Kalashnikov

    Mikhail Kalashnikov

    Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47, has died. Read more about him here: “In the final days of the Soviet Union, when the old icons were fast decaying and any future ones were frantically packing off to escape the ruins,” writes Andrew Meier in Bookforum, “the guardians of Russia’s past had few relics to showcase. One of the last heroes standing, a Stalin Prize winner and two-time Hero of Socialist Labor, was Mikhail Kalashnikov.”

    A dire statistic for 2013: Book bannings are up 53 percent in school libraries across America, according to an anti-censorship group known as the Kids’ Right to Read Project. Among the most contested titles, reports The Guardian’s David Barnett, are Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

    A former Italian senator and influential consigliere to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi “has been caught up in one of the biggest book-theft scandals in history,” reports Rachel Donadio in the New York Times. Marcello Dell’Utri claims to have turned over to the authorities all but one of the allegedly stolen books—a rare edition of Thomas More’s Utopia, which he says is lost in storage.

    Charles Ramsey, the reluctant hero who discovered and helped free the captives of Ariel Castro, is writing a book.

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