• March 26, 2014

    Jonathan Schell

    Jonathan Schell

    The American writer Jonathan Schell died last night, of cancer, in his home in Brooklyn. From his early work as a young Vietnam War correspondent for the New Yorker, through his meticulous yet sweeping case for nuclear disarmament in The Fate of the Earth, to his magisterial rethinking of state and popular power in The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People, Schell embodied the best of a distinctively American, progressive civic-republican tradition—and of a WASP cultural sensibility about which he was ambivalent and humorously self-deprecating. Schell set a powerful example of dissent while showing defenders of conventional wisdom that they, too, have good intentions that they ought to live up to. Our future is dimmed by the loss of what would have been Schell’s continuing insight, magnanimity, and love.  — Jim Sleeper

    Here is Schell in Bookforum on Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke.

     

  • Teju Cole

    Teju Cole

    The New Yorker excerpts Teju Cole’s new/old novel, Every Day is For the Thief. Cole originally published the book in 2007 with Nigeria’s Cassava Republic Press; yesterday, Random House released it in revised form. Yasmine El Rashidi reviews the book in our new issue.

    The U.K.’s new prohibition on sending books to prisoners has met with outrage. The classics scholar Mary Beard called it “crazy”; the novelist Mark Haddon vowed to get “every writer in the UK publicly opposed to this by tea time.” A petition has already garnered nearly 15,000 signatures.

    Zoë Heller and Mohsin Hamid consider the dictum to “write what you know.” As Heller reminds us, “the injunction is only to know; the business of how you come by your knowledge is left quite open.”

    Gary Shteyngart describes his next novel, to be published by Random House in 2017, as “a family drama set in the high-stakes world of global finance.” On Twitter, he implored “people in finance and law enforcement” to help him write it.

    At The Believer, Gideon Lewis-Kraus interviews the filmmaker Mike Mills about his short experimental documentary, A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought Alone, which features the children of Silicon Valley tech workers talking about their ideas of the future. Most of the kids that Mills filmed, he reports, have a “well-informed and negative outlook.”

     

  • March 25, 2014

    Thomas Piketty

    Thomas Piketty

    Paul Krugman christens Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by the French economist Thomas Piketty, “the most important economics book of the year—and maybe the decade.” Piketty argues for a world-wide tax on wealth, like an “an annual property tax,” John Cassidy explains in the New Yorker. In Bookforum, Doug Henwood finds much to praise in Piketty’s work, but is frustrated by the book’s temperate political vision: “For Piketty, the main problem with Marx is his unequivocal call for political confrontation. Having described a process of inexorable material polarization—and with it, increasing plutocratic power over the state—Piketty remains distressingly moderate as he sounds out some of the political implications of his analysis.” For those who need to brush up on their econ before dipping in, Verso helpfully provides a “post-crash” reading list.

    Some five million Americans belong to book clubs, the Times estimates.

    Politico reports that Ben Richardson has quit Bloomberg News to protest their handling, last fall, of an investigative story on Chinese elites. (According to the New York Times, editors killed the piece for fear of their employees being “kicked out of China.”) Richardson explains: “Clearly, there needs to be a robust debate about how the media engages with China. That debate isn’t happening at Bloomberg.”

    In an interview with The Believer, Vivian Gornick talks about how she got involved with feminism, how she became an author, and the difficulty of first-person writing: “In memoir, you have only yourself to dramatize the whole thing. And that’s hard, hard work. To pull out of yourself something that resembles both consistency and drama. People think, Oh, it’s just me, I know me. But there’s nothing more seriously difficult than the familiar: to take control of it, understand it, shape it, make it mean something to the disinterested reader.”

    Next month, Ira Silverberg will join Open Road Media, where he’ll work as a “strategic advisor for author brands.”

    The Writers Guild of America East is lobbying for a bill that makes writers’ fees eligible for the state tax credit that applies to film and television production costs, giving producers more incentive to hire new or untried talent in New York.

  • March 24, 2014

    Carrie Brownstein

    Carrie Brownstein

    The first issue of the academic journal Porn Studieswhich features articles on the “quantitative analysis of online pornography” and “teaching porn studies in the academic-corporate complex,” indulges in the requisite—but unfortunate—double entendres: see  “Hard to Swallow: hardcore pornography on-screen.” 

    At The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald warns against criticizing Edward Snowden for news stories that in fact reflect decisions made by editorial departments of newspapers.

    Indie-rock hero Carrie Brownstein is at work on a memoir.

    At the LA Review of Books, Bruce Hainley talks about his book on the artist Elaine Sturtevant, Under the Sign of [sic]: “Unruly ronin as well as troubling double agent of the simulacra, Sturtevant remains for me a quintessentially American artist.”

    Holly George Warren will be on hand at McNally Jackson Books in New York tonight to discuss her biography of rocker Alex Chilton, A Man Called Destruction.

  • March 21, 2014

    John Lefevre

    John Lefevre

    Last month, Simon & Schuster canceled its six-figure book contract with writer John Lefevre after it was revealed that Lefevre, who was writing an insider’s account of the financial industry titled Straight to Hell, did not work at Goldman Sachs, as his popular Twitter account had claimed. But Lefevre’s book has proven to be more durable than his credibility. According to publisher Morgan Entrenkin, Grove Press has purchased Straight to Hell, and will publish it in November 2014.

    “Lorem Ipsum,” the paragraph of nonsense Latin used since the 16th century as dummy text, was designed “to have the look of text but no meaning.” And yet it can be translated, to weird and beautiful result: “Rrow itself, let it be sorrow; let him love it; let him pursue it, ishing for its acquisitiendum.”

    San Francisco’s Marcus Books, which describes itself as the nation’s “oldest Black bookstore,” may soon be forced to close. To help them keep their doors open, donate here.

    At New York’s Schomburg Center, Zadie Smith and Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie discuss postcolonial literature.

    To celebrate Twitter’s birthday, Flavorpill embarrasses twenty-five writers—including Judy Blume, Gary Shteyngart, and Fiona Maazel—by exhuming their first tweets.

    W.H. Auden often “went out of his way to seem selfish while doing something selfless.” Edward Mendelson on Auden’s “secret life” as a generous person.

    Chronicle Books thinks your Tumblr ought to be a book. So does Tumblr. Does anyone else?

  • March 20, 2014

    In the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Pankaj Mishra and Daniel Mendelsohn discuss canon formation. “How do we know what’s ‘the greatest’? . . . [I]s the agenda always somehow political?” Meanwhile, Jason Diamond agrees with Natasha Vargas-Cooper that the novelist Denis Johnson deserves more recognition. Is Johnson “the most influential living fiction writer in America today”? Maybe, maybe not: over at The Millions, Matt Seidel satirizes the whole business of classification. In Seidel’s host of nonsense categories, novelists are “arthritic” or “lithe”; “robust” or “insinuating”; “hypoallergenic” or “shedding”; and, like their characters, “flat” or “round” —at least when “said novelists become pregnant.”

    Walter Benjamin

    Walter Benjamin

    At the Chronicle, Eric Banks reflects on the life of Walter Benjamin, with the help of a new 700-page biography of the writer.

    An argument for teaching linguistics to all college students.

    Leon Wieseltier criticizes Nate Silver’s data-driven journalism: “Neutrality is an evasion of responsibility, unless everything is like sports.”

    David Frum joins The Atlantic as a senior editor.

    The New York Observer isn’t pink anymore.

     

  • March 19, 2014

    At the New Yorker’s News Desk blog, novelist and former Air Force pilot James Salter ponders the missing Malaysian airplane, and imagines what it was like to be on board: “There have been no announcements, or, worse, there has been an ominous announcement that causes panic. At some point, the passengers, perhaps coming out of sleep, know.” Meanwhile, at Wired, pilot Chris Goodfellow offers a simple theory about what happened.

    Felix Salmon

    Felix Salmon

    Felix Salmon analyzes Dorian Nakamoto’s denial that he was the creator of the internet currency scheme, Bitcoin, as reported in Newsweek last week.

    For universities, hiring off the tenure track is simply “part of the business model,” the equivalent of corporations favoring temps. Noam Chomsky on worsening work conditions for faculty.

    Last week, Yasmin Nair bemoaned a publishing culture that demands that writers work for free or almost free. At Avidly, Evan Kindley agrees, but argues that you can’t blame little magazines like the one he’s writing for. The “vitality” of the latest crop of scrappy new publications—The New Inquiry, Jacobin, LARB—depends in great part on their ability to “evade or short-circuit the established journalistic market.”

    At n+1, editors and contributors share what they’ve been reading. Rebecca Mead, Janet Malcolm, Grace Paley, Doris Lessing, Masha Tupitsyn, Norma Klein, Margery Kempe, Elena Ferrante, Ursula Le Guin: the list skews decidedly female. Rich Beck finds that now that he’s working on a book he can’t get past page 100 of The Wings of the Dove. Has all the writing made him “stupid and narrow”?

  • March 18, 2014

    TED-Ed educates the masses on the debate over the Oxford (or “serial”) comma—via video, a medium in which you can avoid the issue altogether. Bookforum, it should go without saying, is pro-Oxford.

    At Moby Lives, Dustin Kurtz writes that China’s publishing industry, which is “becoming more venal,” “seems to have a rather gross case of the Franzens, and the attention brought by Mo Yan’s Nobel win might be to blame.”

    NoViolet Bulawayo

    NoViolet Bulawayo

    The Zimbabwean novelist NoViolet Bulawayo has won the Pen-Hemingway Award for her first novel, We Need New Names.

    James Franco’s debut collection of poems, Directing Herbert White, is forthcoming from Graywolf in April. On The Tonight Show, Franco reassures anyone who might fear for his poetry-writing abilities that he “has a master’s degree in poetry.”

    The journals of Lawrence Ferlinghetti will be published by Liveright in 2015. Covering the years 1950–2013, the diaries were written while the poet travelled to Mexico, North Africa, Russia, and Cuba, among other places.

    Steven Moore has released the second installment of his mammoth “alternative history” of the novel.

  • March 17, 2014

    At Vanity Fair, James Wolcott looks at rise of “name-brand journalists” like Arianna Huffington, Malcolm Gladwell, Ezra Klein, and Nate Silver, and wonders if their enterprises are sustainable: “The demands of being a byline superhero can spread a journalist’s time and focus so thin—all those honoraria to collect!—that he or she may start serving up skimpily researched quickies or, worse, sloppy seconds.”

    A report on the lack of persons of color in children’s books.

    Lydia Davis

    Lydia Davis

    The Quarterly Conversation’s spring issue is dedicated to Lydia Davis, including articles and reviews of the American short short-story writer and translator. Among many excellent articles on Davis is Lynne Tillman’s look at the story “A Mown Lawn”: “The reader is made aware, as the narrative unfolds, that Davis is shaking words loose from their moorings, even exhuming them, to knock the stuffing or deadness out of them. To expose them.”

    Wes Anderson talks about the influence of novelist Stefan Zweig’s work on his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

    At the Nation, Michelle Goldberg weighs in on Columbia’s firing of Kim Hopper and Carole Vance (author of Pleasure and Danger) because they had not won the university enough grant money.

    The National Book Critics Circle has posted a video of Friday night’s award ceremony, which saw Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie pick up the fiction honor, and Sheri Fink win the non fiction prize (the full list of awards can be found here.) At the Washington Post, critic Ron Charles picks three of his favorite moments from the night.

  • March 14, 2014

    The National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced last night. The winners are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah (fiction), Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (nonfiction), Frank Bidart’s Metaphysical Dog (poetry),  Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading (criticism), Amy Wilentz’s Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti (autobiography), and Leo Damrosch’s Jonathan Swift (biography).

    Nate Silver talks about the relaunch of his FiveThirtyEight blog, which goes live Monday afternoon.

    Bill Knott

    Bill Knott

    The poet Bill Knott has died. The author of numerous collections and chapbooks, many of them hand-made, Knott often shunned mainstream recognition: Though he was once published by FSG, he quickly sabotaged his relationship with the house; another anecdote has him refusing to be published in the Best American Poetry anthology. But he won a devoted following and inspired writers of all types: Denis Johnson, to give just one impressive example, based the plot of his “California Gothic” Already Dead on Knott’s “Poem Noir.”

    Soho Press has launched a new column on its website called The Consolation Prize with Mark Doten: Enthusing about Literature and Bitching about Publishing. “The idea here is interviews with folks in the biz, poking the proverbial poking stick at sales reps, writers, booksellers, editors—anyone, really, who can both enthuse about literature and bitch about publishing.” Their first guest is Emily Gould, the author of And the Heart Says Whatever and the forthcoming novel Friendship, who talks about the Heather Lewis’s stunning and sad (and woefully underrecognized) novel Notice.

    At the LRB, Christian Lorentzen imagines writing a bibliomemoir on Kafka, My Friend Franz: Chronicle of a Life Not a Little Kafkaesque. A sample from the proposed book: “Chapter 2: At university I read The Trial. Lifelong persecution complex begins.”

    Laura Miller likes plenty of fiction written by MFAs, but she points out that writing programs fail to teach many students a crucial lesson: That they must earn their readership. “MFA programs create a bubble for the writers who enroll in them, but what these writers are protected from isn’t either the blistering reader reviews of Amazon or the swashbuckling critical crusaders of the legit press. Instead, pretty much by definition, the workshop world fails to prepare writers for what they will almost certainly face outside it: indifference and silence.

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