• February 12, 2014

    According to the blog EV Grieve, novelist and performer Maggie Estep died earlier this week. In the early ’90s, Estep was a vital presence in the East Village spoken-word scene. She appeared regularly on MTV and toured with the Lallapalooza festival in 1994. She has written seven novels, including Diary of an Emotional Idiot (1997) and, more recently, the horsetrack noirs Hex (2003) and Flamethrower (2010).

  • Ursula Lindsey reports on the 2014 Cairo International Book Fair.

    At the New Yorker, George Packer has written a thorough history of Amazon, and asks if the superstore is “bad for books.” Packer writes: “Amazon is not just the ‘Everything Store,’ to quote the title of Brad Stone’s rich chronicle of Bezos and his company; it’s more like the Everything. What remains constant is ambition, and the search for new things to be ambitious about.”

    AA Gill has received the annual Hatchet Job Award for his acerbic review of Morrissey’s Autobiography, which the critic called “a cacophony of jangling, misheard and misused words … a sea of Stygian self-justification and stilted self-conscious prose.” According to the Guardian, the award ceremony will be held next Tuesday at London’s Coach and Horses pub, where Gill will be presented with a golden hatchet and a year’s supply of potted shrimp. This is not the first time Gill has been recognized for his barbed commentary: One headline from the London Evening Standard reads “Chef attacked kitchen worker after critic AA Gill called food ‘disgusting.'”

    Hilary Mantel

    Hilary Mantel

    Hilary Mantel—the author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies—will be the first living novelist to have her portrait in the British Library.

    Howell Raines wrote a memoir about fly fishing. Joseph Lelyveld wrote a biography of Ghandi. And Max Frankel wrote a memoir about his years at the New York Times. Following Bill Keller’s announcement that he will leave his position at the Times, Poynter looks at what other executive editors have done after leaving their positions at the Gray Lady.

    According to Search Engine Journal, Google has announced its plans to launch a new content-recommendation system for publishers. According to an email sent out by Google sales representatives: “Our engineers are working on a content recommendation beta that will present users relevant internal articles on your site after they read a page. This is a great way to drive loyal users and more pageviews.”

  • February 11, 2014

    The Wilson Quarterly has drastically cut its staff and will likely cease publication after four decades of distinguished journalism. Paul Maliszewski, a longtime reader and occasional contributor to the quarterly, reflects on the magazine’s past and tries to get answers about its future.

    Influential cultural theorist Stuart Hall has died at the age of 82.

    Stuart Hall

    Stuart Hall

    The conservative imprint Threshold Editions is planning a biography of Chris Christie, which is scheduled to be published in the spring of 2015. The book’s author, Matt Katz, has reported on the governor for his blog, the Christie Chronicles, as well as for WNYC and elsewhere.

    Will a new volume of Robert Frost’s letters change our image of the poet? Frost’s authorized biographer, Lawrance Thompson, depicted a cold, cruel man, but scholars are promising a more nuanced picture will emerge with the fullest ever publication of Frost’s correspondence.

    Author Walter Kirn expresses his admiration, hopes, and fears in an open letter (in video form) to Gary Shteyngart.

  • February 10, 2014

    Novelist Alexander Chee has written a thoughtful and eloquent essay about Twitter outrage, Twitter apologies, and how they reflect the world we live in now. “Who knows what we thought we’d get when we let the Internet into our lives,” Chee states, “but whatever it was, what we have now is paper tigers burning in the hot wind of the 4G network—and we are racing after them to watch them burn.”

    Alexander Chee

    Alexander Chee

    In a recently translated essay, W. G. Sebald considers his long fascination with Robert Walser, the endlessly enigmatic Swiss writer: “Who and what Robert Walser really was is a question to which, despite my strangely close relationship with him, I am unable to give any reliable answer.”

    In an essay that will appear in the forthcoming book MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, literary agent Melissa Flashman dwells on her fixation with “popularity as a process and a phenomenon.” Why, she asks, “are certain people, ideas, or stories popular at any given moment?”

    Olivia Laing talks about her book The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, a study of six American alcoholic writers. “Encountering the damage that alcoholics do, both to their own lives and to those around them, is grim, particularly if you have personal experience of it. There were definitely moments when I felt like I’d happily never read about Hemingway again.” For more on Laing’s book, see Gerald Howard’s review in the current Bookforum.

    In anticipation of the Olympics in Sochi, Jeff Sharlet, author of Sweet Heaven When I Die and a frequent Bookforum contributor, traveled to Russia to report on the widespread persecution of gays and lesbians there.

    Haruki Murakami says he regrets his description of the small Japanese town Nakatonbetsu in his story “Drive My Car—Men without Women.” Nakatonbetsu residents have expressed outrage over the story’s portrays of the town’s inhabitants as litterbugs who throw cigarette buts out of their car windows while driving.

    At TLS, Dirk Obbink explains how experts know that two recently found poems were written by Sappho—and what the poems say about the author herself.

  • February 7, 2014

    According to eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, First Look will launch its first digital magazine next week. The new site will be run by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill, and it will kick off with a number of reported pieces on the NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden. First look is also announcing three new hires, journalists Marcy Wheeler, Ryan Gallagher, and Peter Maass, who recently wrote a very interesting article about Poitras and the Snowden leaks for the New York Times Magazine.

    Earlier this week, The New York Observer published a scathing critique of the Times editorial page, including many quotes from unnamed sources inside the newsroom who resented, disliked, or just didn’t respect the op-ed page’s editor Andrew Rosenthal. Now the Washington Post is weighing in, taking down the takedown, with “17 Problems with the New York Observer’s Hit Piece . . . ,” mainly emphasizing that it is bad form to publish ad hominem attacks (or simply negative quotes) from anonymous sources, and noting that “one person’s pettiness and tyranny are another person’s exacting editorial standards.”

    Haruki Murakami

    Haruki Murakami

    The town council of Nakatonbetsu is demanding that novelist Haruki Murakami apologize for suggesting in a story that the city’s residents are inveterate litterbugs.

    At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick considers how the Woody Allen v. Dylan Farrow case is playing out in the “Court of Public Opinion.” And the Times is considering taking the unusual step of publishing a rebuttal by Woody Allen to Dylan Farrow’s now infamous open letter, published on the op-ed page last week.

    Francine Prose and Dana Stevens on the marriage plot’s relevance in 2014.

    New York cinefiles: We strongly recommend an event this evening at NYU’s Deutsches Haus, where Noah Isenberg and Geoffrey O’Brien—two excellent cultural critics who frequently write about film—will discuss the work of director Edgar G. Ulmer. The occasion is the publication of Isenberg’s Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins, and coincides with Lincoln Center’s tribute to Ulmer’s often-bizarre work, which includes Detour, The Man from Planet X, and The Amazing Transparent Man.

    The Millions highlights the best literary tweets since 2010.

  • February 6, 2014

    GayPropaganda_CVR_GIF_020414This week, OR Books is launching Gay Propaganda, a collection of LGBT stories from Russia, edited by journalist Masha Gessen (author of many books, including Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot) and American activist Joseph Huff-Hannon. Gay Propaganda’s release is timed to coincide with the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, a country where not only is violence against gays and lesbians rampant, but being out makes you a de facto enemy of the Putin regime. For more on what it is like to be LGBT in Russia, see Jeff Sharlet’s recent GQ article, “Inside the Iron Closet.”

    Residents of Nakatonbetsu, Japan, are outraged by Haruki Murakami’s portrayal of townspeople throwing lit cigarettes on the ground, resenting their portrayal as litterbugs by Japan’s most famous author.

    At Bomb, director Gaspar Noe (Enter the Void) interviews Matthew Barney about his new five-and-a-half-hour film opera River of Fundament, which is based on Norman Mailer’s novel Ancient Evenings.

    At Electric Literature, Heidi Julavits recommends Adam Wilson’s story, “The Long In-Between,” noting that the tale “reads like a psychological and sociological study of contemporary plumage strategies. It is also incredibly funny.”

  • February 5, 2014

    Roxane Gay has sold her forthcoming book, Hunger: A Weight Memoir, to Harper.

    Andrew Rosenthal

    Andrew Rosenthal

    The Observer has a juicy story about how much reporters at the New York Times resent the paper’s opinion pages, with particular scorn saved for editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal (“He runs the show and is lazy as all get out,” said one reporter), and leading op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman: “We really are embarrassed by what goes on with Friedman. I mean anybody who knows anything about most of what he’s writing about understands that he’s, like, literally mailing it in from wherever he is on the globe. He’s a travel reporter. A joke.”

    Zoe Carpenter reports at The Nation that Republican Representative Mike Rogers is attempting “to silence reporters responsible for stories he considers threatening to national security.” In a hearing with FBI director James Comey, Rogers suggested that reporters who write stories based on stolen documents—such as those leaked by Edward Snowden—have committed crimes.

    This Valentine’s Day, Martin Scorsese’s untitled and unfinished documentary about the New York Review of Books and its history will debut at the Berlin International Film Festival.

    Amazon’s latest publishing imprint, Waterfall Press, will focus on Christian books, both fiction and nonfiction. “Waterfall Press nonfiction will aim to provide spiritual refreshment and inspiration to today’s Christian reader, while fiction will include stories in the romance, mystery, and suspense genres,” Amazon said in a press release.

    A Charlie Chaplin novella from 1948, Footlights, has just been published.

    On Monday night, the 92nd Street Y hosted a discussion between Gary Shteyngart and Elif Batuman. Shteyngart joked about the extensive travel he’s undertaken for his latest book tour: “The things I’ve seen outside of New York, you don’t want to even know. It’s not just Canada. I’m never leaving this island again, I think.” Later, he spoke more seriously about life outside of New York—particularly his experience growing up in Soviet Russia, the subject of his new memoir, Little Failure. He recalls his childhood battle with asthma, which ultimately made his parents decide to move to the US: “In 1974, we didn’t have any [steroid inhalers]. You really got to see mortality up close as a child ’cause you were always about to die.”

  • February 4, 2014

    JK Rowling claims in an interview that it was a mistake to pair off Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Hermione, Rowling claims, should have wound up in love with Harry Potter. “Am I breaking people’s hearts by saying this?” she asks. Maybe not, but some fans are apparently “outraged”: “”Well thanks Jo for kicking down 10 years of what I consider to be the most beautiful, unconditional & bare bones real relationship that could ever exist between 2 people,” writes one Harry Potter fan on the Leaky Cauldron site.

    The NYPL invited author and translator Susan Bernofsky and others associated with the PEN American Center to tour the stacks at the 42nd Street Library. Library officials hoped to convince the visitors that plans to demolish the stacks is “necessary and a contribution to service and scholarship,” but according to Bernofsky, “what I saw convinced me of the opposite.”

    Zadie Smith

    Zadie Smith

    Zadie Smith talks about her story “Moonlit Landscape with Bridge,” which appears in this week’s New Yorker. The story takes place in an unnamed country in the aftermath of a terrible storm, focusing on the Minister of the Interior as he flees. Smith says of her protagonist: “The Minister is a character I’ve been thinking about for a while. Discreet, efficient, ruthless. You can spot him between the lines of a lot of different news stories.”

    The Believer has posted a 2004 interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman, in which he mentions some favorite authors (Richard Yates, Richard Ford), and discusses the George Saunders’s story “Sea Oak” in depth.

    Orhan Pamuk gives a tour of Istanbul.

    Tonight at McNally Jackson bookstore in New York, Jesse Ball will discuss his artfully whimsical new novel, Silence Once Begun.

     

  • February 3, 2014

    Rene Ricard—the artist, critic, and poet—has died. Ricard appeared in films by Andy Warhol and wrote influential Artforum articles about Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Francesco Clemente; his poetry collections include God with Revolver.

    Rene Ricard

    Rene Ricard

    At Hyperallergic, Morton Hoi Jensen reports on Triple Canopy’s third annual marathon reading of Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans.

    When the FBI arrested the man who founded Silk Road on drug-trafficking charges, many people who frequented this online black market were faced with a crisis: Where to continue their book club? In a trend worthy of Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, literary discussions are thriving on the Deep Web.

    The literary magazine VQR has a spiffy new website, and to celebrate, they’ve suspended the paywall for the next two weeks, freeing articles that are well worth a read, including Jeff Sharlet on Harry Belafonte, Richard Nash on the business of literature, Francine Prose on the hindu deity Sri Ganesh, among many others.

    Jacket Copy has a slideshow from this weekend’s LA Art Book Fair.

    A conversation with Adam Klein on his new anthology, The Gifts of the State: New Writing from Afghanistan, which emerged from a writing class Klein taught in Kabul. Klein says of the importance of fiction to the country’s rebuilding: “Imagination is central for post-conflict cultures: they have to change the narrative. This is never done by agreeing on one national hero or one specific aspect of the history, but by providing a voice for the many local and ethnic perceptions.”

     

  • January 31, 2014

    Author Alain de Botton is leading a new news organization—run entirely by philosophers. The Philosopher’s Mail claims to have bureaus in London, Amsterdam, and Melbourne, and is “committed to bringing you the latest, biggest stories, as interpreted by philosophers rather than journalists.” Check out the homepage, which currently offers philosophical takes on tabloid-ready topics such as “Anne Hathaway takes her chocolate labrador Esmeralda for a walk.”

    Susan Sontag

    Susan Sontag

    Susan Sontag wrote 17,198 emails. Benjamin Moser, who is writing a biography of Sontag, recently read them. At the New Yorker, he describes the “feeling of creepiness and voyeurism” he experienced while going through the e-mails—a feeling that “struggled the unstoppable curiosity that I feel about Sontag’s life.”

    In Portland, Oregon, a federal judge has sentenced arsonist Rebecca Rubin to read Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants“in order to teach her more about nonviolent protest.”

    The Harvard Kennedy School has announced the six finalists for the 2014 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Journalism. The prize has a $10,000 reward for finalists and $25,000 for the winner.

    Rae Armantrout

    Rae Armantrout

    For those of you in New York, we recommend two poetry events this weekend: Rae Armantrout (Just Saying) and Mark Bibbins (poetry editor at the Awl and the author of the excellent new collection They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full) read at NYU tonight; and on Saturday, Daniel Nester will launch his new anthology The Incredible Sestina at Poets House.

    The second annual Los Angeles Art Book Fair starts this weekend.

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