• July 24, 2014

    On the Believer website, Sheila Heti interviews Patricia Lockwood as part of a new ongoing series of conversations about Twitter. “The only thing that dictates whether I respond to someone is whether I have something interesting to say in return,” Lockwood says of her Twitter habits. “I respond to people I don’t know at all, when their tweet hauls a nice fresh bucket of water up out of me, but if it comes up empty then I just stay quiet.”

    Scott Esposito, editor of the Quarterly Conversation, takes issue with Tim Parks’s recent New York Review of Books blog piece on Knausgaard. Parks suggests that critics have manufactured a “huge international following” for the Norwegian writer where sincere praise would suffice. Esposito dissents: “Let’s not pretend Dan Brown’s ‘titanic’ sales are an apples to apples comparison with a literary writer.”

    The Great English Novel is dead; long live the Twitter short story. The New Statesman, insisting that “fiction isn’t dying—but it is changing,” defends “The Right Sort,” a tale in tweets by the English novelist David Mitchell. Mitchell’s most recent novel, The Bone Clocks, has made the Man Booker longlist.

    Jack White’s Nashville-based Third Man Records will officially launch a publishing wing, Third Man Books, with the August 5th release of Language Lessons: Volume 1. The box set will include two vinyl LPs, five posters, and a 321-page hardcover book featuring pieces by “punk godfather” Richard Hell, Pulitzer-nominee Dale Ray Phillips, and National Book Critics Circle winner in poetry, C.D. Wright.

    At the New Republic, Tom Bissell recalls the morning in 2000 when William T. Vollmann’s 3,800 page Rising Up and Rising Down manuscript landed on his desk at Henry Holt. Fourteen years later, Bissell interviews the notoriously “uncorrupted literary mind” at his studio in Sacramento. They discuss Vollmann’s fascination with sex workers, and his refusal to use the Internet, carry a cell phone, or drive. That refusal makes sense if you’ve seen the Harper’s piece about his 785-page FBI file. Vollmann’s book of short stories, Last Stories and Other Stories was released this month by Viking. Bookforum recently interviewed him.

  • July 23, 2014

    Jeb Lund picks on Ed Klein’s new book about the Clintons, Blood Feud—specifically, Klein’s calling attention to Hillary’s swearing: “Utilizing someone’s occasional profanity as the basis of a character attack is up there with a sinister ad voiceover saying, Candidate John Cussbrother uses toilets.

    Former judge Stuart Kelly makes predictions for the Man Booker prize longlist, and wonders if an American writer will make the cut.

    The Washington Post has launched Storyline, a new online vertical devoted to policy journalism. The site vows to distinguish itself with data journalism and daily posts of people-focused stories.

    Chuck Palahniuk is planning a graphic novel sequel to the cult classic Fight Club. Picking up ten years after the first book, the sequel will describe the frustrations of middle age. “If you suppress that wild, creative part of you — that Tyler part of you — do you lose the best part of you?” Palahniuk asks. “Your life is more stable and safe, but is it a better life?” Rhetorical questions, obviously.

    Introducing a poetry reading in Chicago, James Franco said his own poems were “trying to say something in addition to what’s on the surface.” The Telegraph holds its nose and reviews Franco’s debut.

    The Awl voices concern over “misleading” satirical posts from the Borowitz Report, a humor blog that accounts for six percent of the New Yorker’s total traffic.


  • July 22, 2014

    The Baffler debuts a sleek new website this week, for the first time collecting its full digital archive from 1988 to the current issue, which includes: “25 issues, 432 contributors, 277 salvos, 450 graphics, 172 poems, 73 stories, 3,396 pages made of 1,342,785 words.” There’s something for every cheerful pessimist: Nicholson Baker’s “Dallas Killers Club,” say, or Eileen Myles’s story “Springs,” or the savage caricatures of Ralph Steadman.

    The New Inquiry considers two books by civilians about veterans who commit suicide: David Finkel’s Thank You For Your Service and Jen Percy’s Demon Camp, “the most unusual and beautiful portrait of human trauma to come out of the last thirteen years.” Meehan Crist recently interviewed Jen Percy for Bookforum.

    In Norway, “Knausgaard-free days had been instituted so that workers would be more productive.” Or so repeated The Guardian, The Economist, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and other credible, fact-checked literary sources. But it’s not true, or at least impossible to verify, according to Pacific Standard. And over at the New York Review of Books, Tim Parks wonders: “Wouldn’t it be enough to praise Knausgaard without trying to create the impression that there is a huge international following behind the book?”

    After serving North Carolina as the state’s poet laureate for less than a week, Valerie Macon has stepped down. Her resignation followed intense scrutiny of Gov. Pat McCrory for personally appointing the state disability examiner and self-published poet, “rather than allowing a committee of writers appointed by the state’s arts council to make the selection” based on “literary merit.”

    At the New Yorker, Maria Konnikova asks, why don’t we “read the same way online as we do on paper?” Maryanne Wolf decided to take up this question after receiving hundreds of letters from readers of her scientific history of the reading brain, Proust and the Squid, many concerned that “the more reading moved online, the less students seemed to understand.” Presently, Wolf has “ensconced herself in a small village in France with shaky mobile reception and shakier Internet” to finish her book. Here is Bookforum’s review of Wolf’s Proust and the Squid, as a primer.




  • July 21, 2014

    Robert Stein, an editor at magazines such as McCall’s and Redbook, died last week at age 90. In its obituary, the Times points out that McCall’s (known as a “women’s magazine”) evolved rapidly under Stein’s innovative leadership: “He led in-depth coverage of the civil rights movement in its early days, interviewed President John F. Kennedy on nuclear weapons, polled seminarians in 1961 on their religious beliefs.” Stein brought a number of boldface names to his magazines: Gloria Steinam, Margaret Mead, Harper Lee, and Martin Luther King Jr. He not only hired Pauline Kael, but also fired her.

    Judith Butler

    Judith Butler

    At the LRB, Judith Butler reviews a new book based on Jacques Derrida’s seminar on the death penalty.

    The Times public editor Margaret Sullivan writes about The Upshot, the paper’s newish blog (which also appears in print) that uses Nate Silver–style number-crunching to convey “what the evidence tells us” about policy issues. But, Sullivan reports, some readers are confused and angry at the way the site sometimes blurs the line between reporting and opinion. Sullivan writes, “editors have some kinks to work out as the clear-cut boundaries long associated with print newspapers become murkier on the web. I would like to see its work better labeled and explained, especially in print. Transparency with readers, when it’s done with directness, is the answer to many new-media issues.”

    At the New Yorker, Jon Lee Anderson has posted a long-view analysis of the Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists. “One of the games being played in the region is an old and dangerous one: the proxy war. For a power that wants to meddle in another country, the great thing about fielding surrogates is that they give you deniability. The bad thing is that you can’t ever fully control them.”

    “We get to see director’s cuts of our favorite movies. Why not an ‘author’s cut’ for books?”

  • July 18, 2014

    Fifteen early stories by Elmore Leonard have been acquired by the British publisher Weidenfeld & Nicolson, to appear in the fall of 2015. HarperCollins will publish the American edition.

    Pinterest is “untapped” as a driver of traffic, Buzzfeed’s vice president of growth and data tells Forbes. You can pin anything—not just photos of attractive sofas. If Twitter use is slowing, as has been ominously hinted, the opposite seems to be happening with Pinterest, which has more female users and possibly more users overall.

    Gawker looks askance at the new “editorial standards” by which Buzzfeed is justifying the removal of old posts.

    Jacques Lezra, one of the translators of the Dictionary of Untranslatables, reflects on the project, which has been controversial, he says, “in at least three ways.” One question he and the other translators struggled with: “If we succeed, won’t we have failed, or at least shown that the original idea, that these terms are untranslatable in some important way, was off base?”

    Norman Mailer liked to draw.

    Google is working on creating the “perfect” font for Android devices, one that will look good at almost any size or resolution—a sort of “visual lingua franca” for the company’s countless applications and phones. The new version of Roboto will ideally not call attention to itself: “The goal of a good font,” writes New York’s Kevin Roose, “is to be silently useful.”

  • July 17, 2014

    At the Believer, Sheila Heti interviews Christian Lorentzen, an editor at the LRB and a regular Bookforum contributor, about his Twitter oeuvre, including the “fake livetweeting” that is one of his specialties. Lorentzen’s Twitter persona is “deliberately unstable”: “It was natural from the start to throw my voice around, to be ‘me’ or ‘not me’ in tweets.” Reading Twitter, he says, is like “watching a stream of garbage flow in order to see what colour the trash is today.” His most recent piece for Bookforum was a review of Emily Gould’s novel, Friendship.

    Rupert Murdoch’s Twitter oeuvre has lately hardly been flowing at all. In February he reached a peak of seven tweets a day, according to a graph by Jim Romenesko; in July it’s been close to zero. Maybe he’s depressed because Time Warner Inc. rejected his offer to buy the company for $80 billion. Or maybe he’s busy figuring out a new offer; the Times Dealbook says that he is “determined to buy Time Warner and is unlikely to walk away.” If he succeeds, he’ll own an unbelievable number of media companies.  Here’s a history of past Murdoch deals, including his 2007 purchase of Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal.

    Amazon’s “Kindle Unlimited” service, now in tests, will offer e-books by subscription. Unlike Oyster and Scribd, which already offer e-book subscriptions, the Amazon version has audiobooks.

    In other e-book news, Apple has agreed to pay a $450 million settlement in response to accusations (which it denies) that it conspired to fix prices.

    Google is reversing its policy of requiring Google+ users to go by their real names, which means that Youtube commenters can once again (after an eight-month break) do their hating anonymously.

    Lena Dunham’s eleven-stop book tour is sold out just a day after she announced her itinerary on Twitter. She’ll be appearing in Boston with Mary Karr, in Iowa City with Curtis Sittenfeld, and in Portland with Carrie Brownstein. For the October 21 tour finale, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, she’ll be joined by Zadie Smith, Jemima Kirke, and the Bleachers (Dunham’s boyfriend’s band). The second block of tickets to the “sold-out” Brooklyn show is getting released today.

  • July 16, 2014

    Marja Mills

    Marja Mills

    Harper Lee, the reclusive writer of To Kill a Mockingbirdissued a biting letter on Monday in response to Marja Mills’s newly published memoir, The Mockingbird Next Door, which describes Mills’s friendship with Lee and her sister Alice. Mills became friends with the pair in 2004, after she moved in next door to them. “It did not take long to discover Marja’s true mission,” Lee writes. “I was hurt, angry and saddened, but not surprised. I immediately cut off all contact with Miss Mills, leaving town whenever she headed this way.”

    Simon & Schuster is apparently “in talks” with Amazon but has declined to comment about what.

    David Plotz, who is stepping down from his position at Slate as editor in chief, told Capital New York that he resigned because the job had stopped bringing him “the joy and passion that an editor should feel all the time.”

    Guernica interviews Zia Haider Rahman, a Bangladeshi-British writer whose first novel about betrayal and class divisiveness, In The Light of What We Know, was published in April. “Novels are not bound by the rules of reportage,” Rahman says. “They’re predicated on delivering experience.”

    Francine Prose and James Parker discuss literary taboos of the modern age: among them, censorship in China, “the groupthink of corporate publishing,” and “boringness.”

    Viv Groskop grumbles over Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell’s ongoing Twitter short story,  which is arriving in bursts of twenty tweets twice a day for seven days: “(a) this is cheating at Twitter and (b) this is not the best way to read a short story . . . How do you mentally screen out all the interruptions from the latest kitten meme, jokes about German footballers in the shower and the latest on the situation in Syria?”

  • July 15, 2014


    Julia Turner

    Julia Turner

    Slate welcomes Julia Turner as its new editor in chief. Turner is taking over from David Plotz, who held the position for six years. She won’t be making any drastic changes, she says: “David and I have worked so closely together, so harmoniously and for so long, that the magazine as it is reflects much of my thinking.”

    On Monday, David Mitchell posted three dozen tweets, the first installments in his Twitter short story, “The Right Sort,” narrated by a teenager on Valium.

    The Feminist Times failed to raise enough money from a recent crowdfunding campaign to remain in operation, it has announced on its website.  The online magazine, started by Charlotte Raven and launched last October, has published Camille Paglia, Laurie Penny, and Annie Sprinkle, among others. Raven said that folding was, under the circumstances,  “the boldest and best move.”

    In October, Oxford University Press will publish Knowledge, by Jennifer Nagel, as the 400th title in its excellent Very Short Introductions series. The elegant little digests have sold over seven million copies worldwide, and are often written by pillars of the field. Highlights include Mary Beard on classics, Peter Singer on Marx, Simon Critchley on continental philosophy, Jonathan Culler on literary theory, Germaine Greer on Shakespeare, and Hermione Lee on biography.

    The National Literacy Trust and public art promoter Wild in Art has piously commissioned artists to create fifty benches across London “painted to look like pages and scenes from famous books.”

    Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, son of Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., has been named “senior editor for strategy” at the paper.

    American Psycho the musical will premiere stateside at Off Broadway’s Second Stage, on the heels of a run at London’s Almeida Theatre. The UK production, starring Matt Smith, aka Dr. Who, received mixed reviews. The Guardian praised Smith’s “beautifully defined performance as the deluded hero,” but the Telegraph, unimpressed, called it an “empty mixture of ironic style and sudden moments of violence.” Apparently we can expect “a lot more BLOOD!!!” from the American production of the show, and an electronic score by Duncan Sheik that expresses the “soullessness” of Patrick Bateman. The show will open in New York in March of next year.

  • July 14, 2014

    Nadine Gordimer in 1953

    Nadine Gordimer in 1953

    South African novelist Nadine Gordimer died yesterday evening at her home in Johannesburg. She was 90. Rachel Aviv reviewed Gordimer’s Beethoven was One-Sixteenth Black for Bookforum in 2008.

    Germany has won the World Cup. The tournament was record-breaking for Univision, which has enjoyed very high numbers of viewers in Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, and New York. Even before yesterday’s finals, the network had drawn 80 million viewers, 60 percent more than it did for the 2010 games.

    The New York Times considers the Amazon monopoly through one of Amazon’s writers, Vincent Zandri: “He is edited by Amazon editors and promoted by Amazon publicists to Amazon customers, nearly all of whom read his books in electronic form on Amazon’s e-readers, Amazon’s tablets and, soon, Amazon’s phones. His novels are not sold in bookstores, and rarely found in public libraries. His reviews are written by Amazon readers on the Amazon website. ”

    In Britain, the chief executive of the Society of Authors argues that publishers’ terms aren’t “fair or sustainable.”

    Adam Kirsch responds to Adam Bellow’s recent calls for a revival of conservative literature. “If you are not allowed to say that life in America can be bad, that Americans can be guilty as well as innocent, that good sometimes (most of the time?) loses out to evil—in short, that life in America is like human life in any other time or place—then you cannot be a literary writer, because you have censored your impressions of reality in advance.”

    At the New Yorker, Rachel Aviv on teachers cheating in Atlanta.

    The New Inquiry has released a supplement on Lana del Rey that features a piece by Johanna Fateman, a regular Bookforum contributor. Fateman most recently wrote for Bookforum about the novelist, short-story writer, and critic Lynne Tillman.

  • July 11, 2014

    Sarah McGrath

    Sarah McGrath

    Riverhead Books has announced that Sarah McGrath will be its new editor in chief. McGrath has been an acquiring editor at Riverhead since 2006, and has worked with Khaled Hosseini, Meg Wolitzer, and Chang-rae Lee, among others.

    The New York Times has hired Katie Rosman of the Wall Street Journal to be a columnist for its style section.

    Recently, the National Academy of Sciences journal published an article drawing on data gathered by Facebook without its users’ knowledge or consent. In the experiment, Facebook manipulated the newsfeeds of nearly 700,000 people in order to judge whether their moods were altered by seeing positive or negative content.  The FTC is now evaluating two formal complaints about the study, one from US Senator Mark Warner and other from the Electronic Privacy Information Centre.

    The 2014 Emmy nominations are in, and The Simpsons has been panned.

    Only 11.5 percent of British writers get their incomes from writing alone, a recent survey of 2,454 writers suggests. The median income was £11,000, or a little less than $19,000.